Wednesday, November 02, 2011

Disturbingly informative

This past summer I took Sophie on a road trip to my hometown, Philadelphia. While there, she got to see where her mom and uncle grew up, learned to play pool, enjoyed a cheese-steak hoagie, took a train into Center City, and cruised South Street.

She had a choice of museums and chose the Mutter, much to my astonishment. Forget the walk-through artifical heart at the Franklin Institute. This kid went for the hard core. Even med students enter the Mutter with awe and trepidation. It's not for the fainthearted. Housed within a quite respectable 19th century brownstone, the museum is a forensic treasure of polished skulls, preserved tissue, deformed skeletons, and myriad medical oddities all made even more surreal by the grand marble staircase, rich wooden paneling, chandeliers, and other genteel trappings of the past. Kind of the Age of Innocence meets Goosebumps. Sophie loved it!

She then picked a small plush "microbe" from the Gift Shop. (Yes, I was amazed that there was a gift shop. How does one choose a gift after viewing preserved body parts and ancient medical tools of dissection?) Her "germ" was the organism responsible for acne. It seemed appropriate since she's on the cusp of tweendom anyhow. Her pink cuddly was aptly named "Pimple".

Next, we take a tourist trolley to Independence Mall and walk to South Street, the mecca of all things hip and fadworthy. Wow, did I just make up a word? After browsing all the bling in the various trendy shops, I treat her to a pair of feather earrings. We then top off the experience with ice-cream sundaes as we watch and listen to the many strange sights and diverse languages of Philly's melting pot, certainly a far cry from rural Massachusetts.

On the walk back to the train, Sophie keeps reading the shop signs and comes to a sudden halt, pointing across the street to "The Condom Factory". Cough.

"You really don't want to go in there, Sophie."

"Why not?"

Cough again.

"Because it's ... for grown-ups. Did mommy ever tell you about ... condoms?"

Pause. Widened eyes.

"Ohhhh. It's that kind of store." The kid is savvy. Knows much more than I did at her age.

We keep walking and come to another store window which looks like Victoria's Secret lingerie until I see the sign above. Crap! The Erogenous Zone.

Sophie stops again, puzzled. "Erogenous" is not a word she has seen on Word Girl.

"Well, Soph, it's kind of a grown-up word for feeling good but it's not a store for kids either."

She looks at me. Puts two and two together. I smile and suggest that The Erogenous Zone should actually be next to The Condom Factory in the previous block.

And we keep walking.

Months later, we are lying side-by-side in my bed during one of her regular sleepovers. She has always loved to read. We are long past bedtime stories. Each of us has our favorite authors now and one of our pleasures is reading ourselves to sleep. She has also become a sci-fi enthusiast, sharing my love of all things Stargate. A typical sleepover usually includes a DVD marathon of Stargate SG1 and Atlantis. And then to bed with our book selections. This particular night, Sophie is browsing through my collection of Stargate books and reading quotes from the show's episodes.

I'm deeply absorbed in my Kindle until Sophie interrupts.

"Babci, what's a eunuch?"

Holy Hannah, I'm back on South Street!

I turn to her, not quite believing what she's asked.

She points to a Jack O'Neill witticism: "Eunuchs! As in snippitty doo-dahs?"

Oh joy. Another learning opportunity.

Considering my daughter, Jenn, has done such a fine job so far of sex education, I hopefully ask: "Hasn't mom talked to you about ... eunuchs and ... boy parts?"

Well, the kid is clueless - not about the boy parts, but the status of a eunuch.

Double crap!

Thus begins the grandmother's rather clinical explanation of just what can happen to some unfortunate lads and men with regards to "snippitty doo-dah".

Sophie asks all the right questions and I try to give all the right answers. Heck! This is a far cry from handing out the Time Life "underwear" books I gave my own two kids on the cusp of adolescence. I am having a bonafide, face-to-face discussion of male appendages with my ten-year-old granddaughter. Who woulda thunk?

Of course, once I step into the deep water, it gets even deeper. I find myself trying to explain the Middle Ages and boy choirs and just why those boys never lost their angelic soprano voices and youthful faces.

Sophie is enthralled. I am appalled. Our eyes meet and we giggle and cannot fall asleep. Snip, snip.

Tears running down our faces, we try to put the eunuch information out of our minds but it is hopeless. More muffled laughter.

Sophie stares at me, enlightened, as she squeals:

"Justin Bieber!"

Monday, May 30, 2011

For those who did not ...

When Johnny comes marching home again,
Hurrah, hurrah!
We'll give him a hearty welcome then,
Hurrah, hurrah!
The men will cheer, the boys will shout,
The ladies they will all turn out,
And we'll all feel gay,
When Johnny comes marching home.

The old church bell will peal with joy,
Hurrah, hurrah!
To welcome home our darling boy,
Hurrah, hurrah!
The village lads and lassies say,
With roses they will strew the way,
And we'll all feel gay,
When Johnny comes marching home.

Get ready for the Jubilee,
Hurrah, hurrah!
We'll give the hero three times three,
Hurrah, hurrah!
The laurel wreath is ready now,
To place upon his loyal brow,
And we'll all feel gay,
When Johnny comes marching home.

Let love and friendship on that day,
Hurrah, hurrah!
Their choicest treasures then display,
Hurrah, hurrah!
And let each one perform some part,
To fill with joy the warrior's heart,
And we'll all feel gay,
When Johnny comes marching home. - Patrick Gilmore

My cousin, Johnny. KIA July, 1944, liberating France.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Turning ten

Sophie celebrated her tenth birthday today. My oldest granddaughter went to have her hair cut and streaked (blue) with her momma. I spent the afternoon with little sister, Hannah, who graciously allowed the older sibling to spend some quality time alone with their mater.

The girls had just spent the weekend in Boston with their dad and had driven back this morning. Both were wilting by the end of day but exhaustion didn't preclude the trip to the beauty salon. When Sophie arrived back home, Hannah took a very close look at the new blue streak and promptly observed, "Sophie, you look SO Goth!"

Sophie, at ten though, is a not-so-little girl who defies categories. She loves "Goosebumps", a British telly series of Steven-King proportions; possesses a ready and dry wit; sings Irving Berlin and current Broadway tunes like a lark; has read all of Harry Potter (a couple years ago); asks me intriguing questions such as "What was the most advanced technology you had when you were growing up, Babci?"; shows compassion and care for those younger and weaker, be they human or pet; has a strong sense of right and wrong and the need to find fairness; is appreciative and voices her gratitude for even the little things like a milkshake treat on the way home from singing lessons.

Oh, Sophie, dear heart. I probably should find a way today, as you begin your next decade, to write a poem or a letter expressing just what it means to have you in my life. I guess this will have to do ...

Your tenth birthday. Scary movies. New earrings. A fashion scarf. Jewelry box. A chic new hairstyle with a signature streak! (God bless your momma who is much more tolerant than I was when she dared to color her hair in the bathroom and it turned orange-pink. I now wish I had taken her to the beauty salon instead.)

Your past few years have been a bit rough. You've had to make peace with life's not being so fair after all. And, yet, you continue to shine. You are brave and funny and bright and kind. I look at you now and catch a glimpse of the beautiful woman you will become. Your mom and dad have done their job well. But I think you already know that.

You were so tiny when you were born. I held you carefully, in awe of my first granddaughter. You still have the lifelike dolly I bought for you when I came to the hospital. (So big, it barely fit in the elevator!) Now, you tower over the doll and are almost ready to tower over me. Soon, we'll be sharing the same shoe size.

There may be some changes in both our lives this coming new year. We may be moving away from each other. It's too soon to tell what our immediate future holds.

For now, I play "Happy Birthday" to you on the piano and you smile back at me, your special Sophie smile. We share a moment.

That, my sweet girl, is enough.

No matter what happens in the months ahead, we will always be connected.

So Happy New Decade to you ... and me.

Continue to do what you've been doing. Go gently. Be kind while being tough enough to weather the storms. And, always, always keep a song on your lips and in your heart.

I am so proud of you.

Love, Babci xo

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

Sweet little-boy sounds

Another cold, blustery day. Knock on the door. My neighbor's car won't start. He thinks his battery needs a jump. I throw my coat on and trudge out onto the seemingly perpetual ground cover of crunchy ice, snow, and gravel which comprises our apartment parking lot. It's been a brutal winter and all of us are just about keeping up. Dead batteries only add to the misery. Last night we had a blast of freezing rain which leads to scraping all the car windows free of ice before we can even drive out the parking lot. Gabe helps me with my windows and I then back my car up and next to his. His younger son, Seth, is huddled in the back seat of dad's car, patiently waiting for the motor to turn over. Cables attached, Gabe continues to turn the ignition key but the car just cranks, coughs, and fails to start. Somewhat embarrassed, he grins at me and realizes that he may be out of gas. No problem. I offer to take him to the nearest gas station for an emergency fill-up. He brings Seth over to my car and straps him into one of the girls' rear car seats. Then Gabe goes to find a container for the gasoline.

Seth and I are alone in the car. This little four-year-old kid is fairly shy but seems to be handling his time with me okay.

Suddenly, out of the back, I hear him playing out loud, making imaginary sounds and creating his own special world of sound effects.

I feel like I have just been transported back in time about 30 years or more. I'm hearing my son, Joseph, in the back seat doing what little boys love to do ... making all the excited inflections that only a boy fighting dragons, or flying an airplane, or swinging a sword against a pirate can utter.

I turn in my seat and Seth is, indeed, holding a slightly raveled crocheted football in his hand and, most likely, running down field for the touchdown in his mind.

What a beautiful sight to see this little guy totally self-contained, playing out loud, unaware of the older neighbor lady in the front seat grinning back at him.

This is exactly how I remember my little boy playing. And his little boy playing too ...

Joseph and Ben. Son and grandson. The two guys in my life.

I am so used to the play sounds of my four granddaughters that I completely forget just how different the energy and tone of boys can be. Girls coo, giggle, sometimes sigh and shout, but boys seem to express a much more primal energy. They thrust, weave, choreograph and swish in another dimension.

A neighbor's child helps me revisit that wondrous, magical kingdom once again. And I remember just how much I miss it.

For a few precious moments, I'm hearing my boys ... being boys.

Sunday, January 23, 2011


Who knows? If we keep practicing, we may take our act on the road ...

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Old song, new wisdom

Had Sophie for another sleepover and, finally, we got to make some inter-generational music together!

I never heard this song before but Sophie introduced me to it today. Irving Berlin. Possibly WWII vintage. My accordion may have drowned out some of the words while Sophie was singing, so I will post them here as the message is timeless, no matter which generation we're a part of ...

"It's A Lovely Day Tomorrow"

The front page of your paper is bound to make you sad, especially if you're the worrying sort.

So turn the front page over where news is not so bad, there's consolation in the weather report.

It's a lovely day tomorrow, tomorrow is a lovely day

Come and feast your tear-dimmed eyes on tomorrow's clear blue skies

If today your heart is weary, if every little thing looks gray

Just forget your troubles and learn to say

Tomorrow is a lovely day

Playing this with Sophie just warmed my heart. I love that her teacher has introduced her to Irving Berlin. When I hear her sing Berlin, I feel like I'm back in my parents' generation, the days of the Great Depression and WWII. Yet, there was always an optimism and hope for better days which Irving Berlin captured in his music.

It seems that Sophie has found that message too. Enjoy.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Over the rainbow, under the boardwalk, and all points in between

It's been almost a year since Sophie started vocal lessons. She loves to sing and the lessons have helped her grow in confidence. Last spring she surprised us all by signing up for her school's talent show. Sophie, Little Miss Introvert, performing in front of her peers and teachers! True grit.

This past year, as her parents' divorce became final, she has grown in so many ways. Taller, sharper wit, determined, curious. Conversations are on a new level. She asks engaging questions and expects to be answered.

Sophie doesn't live 'over the rainbow'. She has her feet planted on terra firma. I credit her mom's honesty in dealing with her in a truthful way on a need-to-know basis. Sophie is dealing with divorce with books and music and friends and humor. She seems to know where to put her feelings and thoughts. Journal writing has been a part of the trip. She's not afraid to examine herself and the grown-ups in her life. I think she will become a beautiful young woman, tempered by suffering and loss, but also shaped by humor and courage and grace.

Here is an example of that courage ...

Monday, January 17, 2011


There was a lot of activity at my daughter's house this past weekend. Jenn's friends drove in from Syracuse to build a surprise loft bed for Sophie. The husband, Zeke, is a master craftsman, teaches woodworking to college students. In a two-day period, he managed to create the most amazing bed and free up much needed space beneath for shelves, hooks, a dollhouse and reading nook. Sophie's very cramped room had an extreme makeover!

Little sis, Hannah, was in on the surprise and helped to take care of the couple's toddler while the house was turned a bit upside down. She was bursting at the seams with the secret she was keeping, knowing that she wanted to orchestrate how the surprise would play out when her sister returned home on Sunday. Most of Saturday and Sunday's focus was on Sophie's project, with a fair amount of attention on baby Thomas too.

I came over on Saturday and cooked a roast to add to the festivities. Jenn had taken down the Christmas tree and cleared out Sophie's room for the renovation. Hannah wandered about, carrying Moe the kitten when she didn't have baby T in her arms. She wanted to feel useful. Part of the plan was for her to sleep over at my house on Saturday night because Jenn needed to sleep in her bed in order to host Zeke, wife Karen, and Tommy in the main bedroom. Trying to squeeze into a twin bed with Hannah didn't seem like such a good idea so Jenn told her that she was coming with me for the night. Looked good in theory.

Normally, having Hannah for a sleepover is a lot of fun. As we drove down the hill to my place though, Hannah's demeanor changed. By the time I pulled into my parking space, she was in tears. Inconsolable. "I want my mommy." She stubbornly refused to get out of the car. "Take me back to mommy's." I tried to reason with her and be firm. She would have none of it. It was late; she and I were both tired. Frustrated, I closed the back door, immediately plunging the car interior into darkness as she screamed more loudly. I quickly re-opened the door and sat inside. "Hannah, come on. It's cold out here. You can't sleep in the car and you can't go back to mommy's tonight." The crying ratcheted up another notch.

Hannah, the second born, was having a meltdown in the back seat of my car. An entire day of being the good girl, mommy's helper, preparing the way for her sister's special surprise moment had finally taken its toll. She did all that was asked of her and then was 'banished' from her own house to sleep at her grandmom's. Any other time this would be a reward; tonight it seemed like a punishment.

I knew that Hannah would have to come to her own moment of truth. So I sat while she protested through her tears. I reminded her of next morning's breakfast (waffles, one of her favorites) and a video of her choice that we would watch together. Finally, she unbuckled her seat belt and wiggled her way out my side of the car.

As she trudged up the snowy path in front of me, I wanted to take her in my arms and whisper "It's all right, Hannah, I understand." I was torn between being firm and being compassionate. I also sensed that wrapping my arms around her would not be very welcomed at the moment. Hannah was hurting and needed to work through this with some of her dignity left intact.

We climbed up my stairs and she walked across the living room, in coat and boots, plopping down on the love seat while still proclaiming, "I miss my mommy." She seemed so lost and my heart melted.

"I miss my mommy too."

She looked at me as the tears started to run down my face. Cautiously, I sat next to her, close enough to let our bodies touch. She leaned into me, still whimpering but more receptive. My tears fell onto my sleeve and her hair.

"It must be very hard sometimes. One week at daddy's and then the next week at mommy's. Divorce is hard. It makes me sad too. I know you want mommy tonight but she really thought you would sleep better at my house in the bigger bed and she had to use your bed because of the company."

I couldn't give her anything else. Just my tears and my thoughts that sometimes we can't always get what we want.

The storm passed. She took her coat and boots off, even putting them in their proper place at the top of my stairs. One brief moment of panic, "I don't have baby blanket!" Ouch. We were still in a lifeboat and the water was choppy.

"No, but Jelly Bean and Fudge are waiting for you on my bed. I bet you can rub their tummies while I rub your back." She weighed the offer as her tears dried and then went back to the bedroom, climbing atop my bed to hug the two stuffed animals. She let me help her change into pajamas, we both went to the bathroom, and then I did what I was wanting to do all night. I rubbed lazy circles on her back as she held on to her little pets.

No mommy, no baby blanket, no real kitten. Just two weary souls who snuggled together wishing that life could be more fair.

"Leave the light on, Babci."

She had a restless night but woke up with plans on how she would lead the surprise for her sister. We did not talk of the previous night's tears. Instead, she asked for her favorite waffles and chose "Anastasia" for our video treat.

"Anastasia", the story of a lost Russian princess who was separated from her loving grandmother but, in the end, they both found each other again.