Sometimes everything has to be enscribed across the heavens so you can find the one line already written inside you. Sometimes it takes a great sky to find that small, bright, and indescribable wedge of freedom in your own heart. David Whyte

Pearls of Wisdom From My Grandchildren

I’m learning to know my grandchildren from inside out
They tell me what they feel and think, speak my language.
Connect us deeper than words in many ways.

Grandson twelve years old
Telling about pitching the winning strike-out
“I felt good about myself, knew I could do it,
And pitched with all my fierce competitive energy.”
His grin said it all.

Granddaughter almost nine years old
Showed me a huge bag of library books
Her summer reading project.
I asked how many books could be checked out at once.
“As many as I can carry and I’m very strong.”

First job – grandson sixteen years old –
A life guard who gives swimming lessons,too.
First pay check put a big smile on his face.
No one had to guess his sense of self
Had just gone through the roof.

Little brother – grandson thirteen years old
Clung to boyhood another year.
Went off to summer camp with friends
Will spend days sailing to his heart’s content.
He’ll get serious in another year.

Grandson – also twelve years old
Spent time last year in India, birth place of his mom.
I asked what part of his adventure meant most to him.
“India is fifty percent of me” was his reply.
Deep wisdom tells him who he is.

Granddaughter ten years old
Speaks with dancing feet.
Taps out rhythms on the wooden floor,
Floats with graceful ballerina arms
Reminds me of when I was a little girl.


Negotiating Lunch

When my son and his family dropped me off after our extended family Easter brunch my grandson James asked if he could come to lunch the next day. I quickly rummaged through my refrigerator mentally and said yes. I volunteered that I had deli ham and cheese and “healthy” bread (meaning not likely to be something a thirteen year old would like). James replied that he could bring macaroni and cheese, at which his almost sixteen year old brother groaned as a put-down to his younger brother who considers himself quite the chef. My daughter-in-law, who well knows that I am mostly retired from cooking, offered to send along some left-overs she had on hand. Menu settled we set a time for James to be dropped off at my apartment the next day. Game on.

James arrived with a goodie bag. We explored what his mother had packed and found the remains of a Key lime pie (his mother remembered that is one of my favorites), chunks of cantaloupe and a big bag of potato chips. On my part I had come up with some little pecan tartlets purchased at the grocery store bakery left over from a pot luck with friends. Also I discovered I had bagel thins on hand we could use instead of healthy bread. I laid out the sandwich fixings and we were ready to roll. James suggested we grill our sandwiches in the toaster oven. I replied that in my experience bagel thins tend to get too dry in the toaster oven. Then James, always looking for new ways to do things, said lets add fried eggs to our sandwiches. Yes! He got out a skillet while I got stuff from the refrigerator. James chose three eggs, expertly cracked one for me and fried it over-easy to perfection. He did the same with the other two for himself. I started setting the kitchen table but James wanted to eat on the dining room table. He wanted candle light and music, too. A young man after my heart since that is how I eat my dinner. He put the icing on the cake when he said he preferred old-time music. We agreed on Chet Baker and his jazz horn to accompany our meal. There we sat, two friends two generations apart mutually sharing a convivial lunch.


Cuba 2012 – Love Songs Written on My Heart: Introducing Jose and Finding Nemo

Jose was not quite our drum major but I think we would have followed him anywhere as he introduced us to his Cuba. He was a tour guide unlike any I have encountered on my travels. Jose incarnated the history of a people while introducing us to his everyday existence in Cuba. His mother’s family was from Spain and he was aware of his more affluent European roots. He now lived with his wife and two young sons in his mother-in-law’s home. That is how Cuban families manage on barely life-sustaining incomes. Jose, his wife and her father had jobs while his mother-in-law took care of the house and her grand children. Jose had worked hard to make it possible for his family to acquire the resources to add on a room of their own. I say resources because no one has money to buy lumber, tools and other things necessary for construction. Bartering skills and materials is a way of life. Cubans have devised a brilliant underground solution to get around the limitations of poverty. Jose explained to us that in Cuba there are un-legal things as opposed to illegal things. The people are masterful in defining and balancing on this thin margin. Jose’s work as a tour guide was not his first choice but it is one of the best paid means of employment in Cuba, always excepting the Government. His heart’s desire was to lead bicycling tours, which he did in the off-season for tourists. (Except for U.S. citizens people from around the globe visit Cuba.) When we asked Jose questions about Cuba that he was uncomfortable answering he would smile and say, “It’s complicated.” His grin and ability to laugh at the ironies of life in Cuba were endearing.

Though Jose spoke fluent English our tour bus driver spoke none. He helped those of our tour group, including me, who found getting off the bus problematic. It’s always that bit between the last step and the ground that is daunting. The bus driver gave us warm smiles. With my high school Spanish I could say “gracias” but wanted to say more. I had noticed the orange fish with bright white and black stripes hanging from the rear view mirror of the bus. As an educated grandmother I recognized the fish was Nemo. One day getting off the bus I said “Nemo” and the bus driver grinned. We were discovering a common language. Pointing to myself I said “abuela”, which I knew was the word for grandmother because I live near a restaurant by that name and learned the translation from its menu. He pointed at himself and said “papa”. Then we communicated with fingers about how many children and grandchildren we had between us. A couple of days after our conversation the bus driver appeared with a step stool to bridge the gap between the bus and the ground. We beamed at each other. Our message was sent and received.


Perfection In the Midst of Imperfection: Lagniappe and Love

Once upon a time almost half a century ago, when my youngest son was two years old, we used to go to a late afternoon Christmas Eve service at our church. The big draw for our three sons was the Kentucky Fried Chicken supper afterward. We mothers enjoyed a break before the harried moments of getting children wide-eyed with excitement to sleep so Santa Claus could arrive. The fathers were happy to be off the hook for a bit before the annual challenge of assembling toys that always came with a part or two missing. Through the years there is one Christmas Eve that remains perpetually fresh in my memory.

We arrived a little late and found seats in the back of the church. While we sang carols, one of my favorite parts of the service, my youngest son quietly slipped beneath the pews and crawled forward several rows until a vigilant parent retrieved him and pointed him back in our direction. When time came for telling the story of the First Christmas the Pastor called the children forward to gather around him at the front of the Sanctuary. The children sat on the floor and looked around with awe at this part of the church usually reserved for grown people, often wearing long black robes. I noticed a child edge away from the group and stealthily begin to climb the circular stair leading upward to the Pulpit. Soon a small head leaned way over the railing, like a sailor leaning out over the sea from a ship’s crows nest. It was my pew-crawling son.

Behind the Pulpit and other Ecclesiastical furniture, there was a tapestry-like wall covering surrounding the Cross. It was a heavenly shade of blue patterned with gold lines forming diamond shapes. At the points of the diamonds there were rosettes completing the design except where one was purposely left off. This was to remind us of the imperfection of humankind. I privately named the missing flower the symbol of “The August Order of the Missing Rosette” and considered myself a charter member. I mentally included my pew-crawling, pulpit-climbing son in its ranks.

This holiday season I’ve had occasion to renew my membership in the “August Order”. I do most of my shopping on-line. I particularly like ordering from Amazon to take advantage of free shipping if I spend a certain amount. I checked with my middle son who lives in another city to see what my two grandchildren wanted as gifts. I went on-line, found just the thing for each child and had them shipped to their address, which is in Amazon’s list of people I frequently send gifts to. Two days ago I received an email from Amazon saying the gifts were on the way – to my address! I couldn’t believe it. I’m certain that I clicked on my son’s address. My stomach sank. Now I’m afraid I can’t get the presents to their house in time for Christmas day. This is bad, but the worse thing is that this is not an isolated incident. It is a feature of aging that I find hard to accept. Doing ridiculous things and laughing about it with my friends “of a certain age” is one thing. Messing up my grandchildren’s Christmas is a whole different matter. I emailed my son about the delay and told him that I guess perfection is just not something possible for vintage-aged people. He replied that to him “my imperfections are just lagniappe (a Louisiana phrase meaning something extra added to a gift). The August Order of the Missing Rosette would be proud of my son and me.


Funny Tears

Daily Prompt: Describe the last time you were moved to tears by something beautiful.

It was the last time my grand kids were to spend the day with me. I could tell something different was going on as soon as they walked in the door. Aidan had in his hands a small Lego hero figure he had created. His I-Pad was nowhere to be seen. He said his sister Mia had lost it, as well as his I-Pod. I could see that Aidan had lost his happy disposition. Mia seemed content with reading books she had brought with her. I went back to my computer where I had been paying a few bills. All this happened before 9 o’clock in the morning. We three had fallen into a rhythm of beginning our days together slowly.

But obviously not today. Mia turned on the TV to watch cartoons, which she usually did the hour after lunch before their dad picked them up. The unaccustomed noise shocked me out of my usually peaceful mindset. (I guess you can tell I am a creature of habit, as is Aidan. Mia is a maverick in our midst.) I moved into the living room and picked up a word puzzle to do. Aidan had gotten absorbed in Mia’s cartoon so I decided to accept the situation as the best of a weird morning. When the clock said it was time to go outside to the pool Aidan announced he had not brought his swimming suit and did not want to swim. Mia really wanted to. Oh, me. I said I could not be in two places at once and asked Aidan if he would consider sitting with me by the pool while Mia swam. He grumbled but agreed.

Once we were settled I asked Aidan how his I-Pad had gotten lost. Apparently it had gone missing after three friends slept over to celebrate his birthday. But that isn’t what Aidan wanted to talk about. He launched into an in-depth one-sided conversation about the game Mine Craft. I learned one thing – the mines the game refers to are not land mines as I had supposed but old-fashioned mines in the earth.

Finally the clock crept forward to noon. We went to Boston Market for lunch where we were greeted as the usual Thursday customers we had become. We ate lunch and headed back home.

I was glad the day was almost over, and my summer commitment to take care of my son’s children. I looked around the living room of my apartment and thought how home-like it had become this summer of Thursdays with my grandkids. Mia was sitting in my usual chair which she had adopted as hers and Aidan was stretched on the floor watching TV. I thought how beautiful a sight it was – and how precious it is to love grandchildren, whatever their mood. And tears came to my eyes.


Language Lessons

The other day at a family event I asked my fifteen year old grandson Bobby if he wanted to get together for lunch the following week. He said, “Sure. Tuesday’s good. I’ll give you a call.” Tuesday came but no phone call, though I waited at home for one most of the day. I left the ball in his hands thinking that was an appropriate response to respect his growing independence. (Or maybe my not calling him was leftover from all the stilted phone calls I attempted with my grandchildren when I lived in a different city.)

More of the story came to light later in the week when I was talking to my son on the phone about something else. He told me that on Tuesday Bobby had tried to call me on my cell phone a couple of times and even left me a message, but I never responded. He and his brother James were worried that “something had happened to Grandma” when Bobby couldn’t reach me. My son assured them that I was fine. “Grandma keeps her cell phone off and only uses it when she is away from home in case of an emergency.” My son suggested that I call Bobby on his family’s land line about our lunch date. He planned to give Bobby a message to call me on my land line when he got home later in the afternoon.

I was relieved to learn how Bobby’s and my individual choice of communication was the culprit in our failure to connect. We were speaking different languages. More importantly I learned something endearing about my grandson. He did not forget our conversation about lunch. And when he didn’t reach me he was concerned that something had happened to me. It is great to know that he is so dependable and responsible But that is not the end of the story. My lesson was just beginning.

I waited until evening for Bobby to call me. When he hadn’t I decided I would text him since I know that is his preferred mode of communication. The problem was I had only sent two or three texts in my life. I messed around with my cell phone – no frills and on a basic Senior $29.99-a-month plan, texting extra. Finally I managed a mistake-riddled message asking him to call me on my land line and successfully sent it. He texted back, “No problem.” I was elated!

The next day when he still hadn’t called I texted him again, briefly asking which day next week was good for him (I was learning that texting requires few words.) He texted back his choice of days. I replied with a few words giving instructions where to meet me, what time, and where he could safely leave his bicycle. He responded “Alright.” Bingo! Communication completed.


Educating Grandma : Lagniappe

It was Thursday and they came again. They brought their backpack-full of the day’s necessities – I-pad, I-pod, books and bathing suits. I met them at the door of the building and we made our way up the elevator to my floor. We admired the peculiar bubble-shaped imperfections on the wall of mirrors across from the elevator door. I explain that’s how I know it’s my floor when the elevator stops. Only the fourth floor has such an artistic touch. We stepped inside Apartment 412 and settled in for the morning.

We were getting into a routine. Remarkable, I thought, for only the second time my grandchildren Aidan (11) and Mia (8) spent the day with me while their dad was at work. I checked my morning email while Mia read and Aidan played a game on his I-pad. Aidan has been instructing me in games since Mario’s Cars (?). He is kind enough not to give up. The morning looked like rain which would interrupt our plans to swim in the pool behind my apartment in the patio garden. We still had lunch to look forward to, in any event. And then the sun broke through the clouds and down we went to go swimming.

After pool time we walked over to Boston Market for lunch. Again. There were untried sides on the menu we wanted to order. We haven’t yet made our way through the whole menu so we’ll eat there again next Thursday. After Boston Market we headed to Baskin Robbins in search of new flavors. It will be a while before we exhaust the Baskin Robbins possibilities I think our lunch time routine is set for the foreseeable future. It’s funny that we are all three creatures of dependable habit.

But life has a lovely way of sneaking in something different. After lunch we returned to our own interests. Aidan went back to his I-pad, I worked word puzzles, and Mia wandered around investigating things. I had told the kids that no place was off-limits in my apartment and was glad that Mia accepted my invitation to explore. My old turquoise blue brocade-covered jewelry box caught her eye. She brought me a couple of things to inquire about. My jewelry box contains a multitude of stories I yearned to tell a granddaughter someday. And things I wanted to hand down. I sent Mia home with a locket she can put a small picture in and a turquoise birthstone ring given to me by my mother on my 6th birthday that is just her size.

And the Lagniappe thing? In Louisiana lagniappe means “something extra”- a gift. I have long felt sad, and a little guilty, that I did not have a true “grandma’s house” to welcome my children and grandchildren into. The townhouse where my second husband and I lived was basically the office for his practice of psychotherapy. I and any family guests had to work around the days and times patients were there. Not like any grandma’s house I had heard of. In the two years since I moved to be near two of my sons and families I have often visited them at their houses. This summer for the first time it’s just me and the grandkids in my apartment with my old things and good food, albeit provided by Boston Market and Baskin Robbins. I have discovered that Grandma’s House is truly here – because having grandkids in it makes it so. Lagniappe!


Writing 101, Day Nineteen: Don’t Stop The Rockin’

This a perfect day to free write. My grandchildren Aidan and Mia arrived and I knew I wouldn’t get to writing until mid afternoon. And I didn’t know how much energy I would have left.

Being a grandmother is not something I know a lot about. My mother’s mother died when I was two and my dad’s mother died when I was six months old. My mother died when my oldest son was seven. Hence we had not much collective experience when I became a grandmother myself. I come at it with a Zen mind. I know that I’m not the cookie baking type, or the knitting sweater type. I had to make it up as I went along. I moved to the city where they live to give being a grandma a last-ditch, full blown try.

My son, the Mister Mom in his family, is working in the morning and asked me to take care of his kids on Thursday. All summer. I didn’t know how I would do it but said yes anyway. I figured I could wing it if necessary. They showed up at eight o’clock this morning equipped with game toys, I pads, books and a tech sort of thing that can be used as an alarm clock. I told them that their dad said I should get myself into the 21st Century. They laughed. I have a Kindle so I got out my Kindle to be a techie, too. When I let them in the apartment I had been checking email. I welcomed them. told them to make themselves at home, and went back to my computer. When I got back in the living room where they and their stuff had settled, they were quietly playing a game. Okay. I got the puzzle page from the morning newspaper and worked on the puzzle. They moved on to books. It was very quiet. Okay, now what. I had believed that we as a group would find our group dynamic so I waited. Mia’s gadget sent its alarm and that broke the tension(if there was any). We moved into a more conversational mode. I told them what to expect from the day. That we were going to Boston Market for lunch. Silence. That their dad told me they liked chicken, creamed spinach and mashed potatoes. They still said nothing. What’s up. Then my grandson Aidan asked me what size the place was. I thought and said about the size of my living room. He said he was picturing a huge food court from the word “market”. He does not like crowds. I laughed. What a lesson on communication and thinking my words communicate what I think they do. He was fine after he asked his question and had my assurance we were not going to have lunch in a cavernous space with noisy crowds of people.