Monday, December 29, 2014

Happy Holidays

        This is going to be a short one. I know that statement is shocking. By now, those who drop by here regularly, a small but intelligent audience, are used to my lengthy diatribes on whatever happens to be crossing my mind at the time. That is not by design. It is merely my nature. I don't intend, upon sitting down to write, to expend as much as two thousand words or so on the subject of baby food or the cleanliness of my floors, it just seems to happen. That's the way I am. Long-windedness and waxing philosophical are character flaws of mine. Heck, this one's over a hundred words already and I haven't even said anything yet. The point is, I'm still wrapped up in enjoying the holidays so I'm busy with a lot of other things, (fun things), and in no real mood to write. So please forgive me my shortness here.

         Christmas is over and a good time was had by all. I was finally able to get into the Christmas spirit a few days before, primarily by writing the last post "Here Comes Santa Claus". Thinking about the meaning of Christmas while writing that post did the trick, along with finding a new sewing machine under the tree.

         Kiley had her first Christmas and, as expected, it was a success. She got everything she wanted, or at least everything she would have wanted if she were old enough to desire particular things. She got some outfits and a soft baby doll from me and "Uncle Tom", and so many other presents from parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, friends of the family, etc. that they can't be counted. This being her first Christmas makes her a celebrity in our family, so she was showered with love, attention, and gifts. She will remember none of it and we will never forget it.

         Since Kiley's mom is a teacher and doesn't have to go back to work until after New Years, I have another whole week off. Hooray! I'm planning on taking Kiley out for the day New Years Eve, just for fun and to give her mom a real day off. Then it will be New Years and the holiday season will be behind us. It comes so quick and goes so fast, which, I suppose, is the nature of wonderful things. The cold dark days of winter lie ahead of us, the bleakest time of the year. I'm not looking forward to it except maybe to taking Kiley out in the snow. That will be an experience for both of us. I'm already pining for March to go out like a lamb. Give me spring!

         The only thing I am looking forward to this winter is Kiley's birthday in January. What an event that will be. Another excuse to shower her with love, attention, and gifts. This coming year will be filled with so many milestones for her. I am really looking forward to it all especially because somewhere along the way Kiley will begin to talk. That will be truly amazing for me and everyone associated with her because we don't really get to know them until they can talk and express whatever ideas they have. Soon enough we are going to find out what is going on in that little head of hers. I can't wait to hear what she has to say. I hope everyone is having as great a holiday season as I am. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to all.


Sunday, December 21, 2014

Here Comes Santa Claus

          When my granddaughter was six or seven, (she is now fifteen), she asked me the strangest question for a six or seven year old. I was her "Nan" at the time. I have always been her "Nan", am now, and always will be, but at the time I was really her "Nan" the way I am Kiley's "Nan" now, her daily caregiver and one of the people she counted on to supply her with everything she needs. She asked me, "If someone commits murder can they be redeemed?"

        My initial reaction was something along the lines of, "This child is watching too much TV." But this was a serious question and I could tell that the answer was important to her, so putting aside for the moment why she was concerned about murder and where she got the word "redeemed" I gave her an honest answer. I said, "If someone is truly sorry and dedicates themselves to making amends, then God will forgive them no matter what they have done."

        She rolled her eyes and said in an exasperated tone, "Not God, I mean Santa Claus." Oh Santa Claus! Okay. So it's not our immortal souls we're worried about here, it's the size of our "haul" on Christmas morning. "Well", I said in response, "God may offer infinite forgiveness but with Santa Claus I think committing murder pretty much puts you on the 'naughty list'". That satisfied her and she went back to whatever six or seven year old nonsense she was engaged in at the time.

        Santa Claus, what to make of him? My granddaughter can be forgiven for thinking and speaking about Santa Claus as if he were God because, as described by adults, Santa Claus has many god-like qualities. He is wise and kindly like an old father. He knows everything, at least everything of importance like when you are sleeping and if you've been "nice". He's everywhere all the time and can be in everyone's home all over the world in one night. He judges us on a scale of "naughty" and "nice" based on our behavior. He travels, not in a "chariot of fire" perhaps, but at least in a sleigh that's candy apple red. And, of course, he is inseparably linked to the joy that is Christmas.

        Bells are ringing, children singing                                                                                                               All is merry and bright      
        Hang your stockings and say your prayers  
        'Cause Santa Claus comes tonight.

        It is that inseparable link to Christmas and, thereby, an inseparable link to God, which gives Santa Claus his identity and meaning. Santa Claus is Christmas, - Christmas personified. And the spirit of generosity, fellowship, and goodwill (the spirit of Christmas), which Santa Claus embodies, is merely the smallest aspect of a greater spirit that is the foundation of all things both spiritual and physical, the seen and the unseen.

        It has become a cliché that we have lost the spirit of Christmas, that Christmas is too commercialized and, in some respects, who can deny it? Shopping is practically a religion in itself in some quarters, and the retail business, in general, relies on the Christmas buying spree to turn a yearly profit. The stock market can rise and fall based on the traffic flow through the malls on Black Friday. And I suppose it is easy to point to Santa, the fountainhead of Christmas giving, as a symbol of the commercial aspect of the season. And there are those who do. But that is a misconception, a distortion of the very idea of Santa Claus and of Christmas as it is celebrated today.

        When people say Christmas has become too commercialized, what they really mean is that it has become too secular; that we have taken the "Christ" out of Christmas. But that too is a misconception. For no matter how jaded we are, no matter how wrapped up in the commercial aspects of the holiday we become, we cannot take Christ out of Christmas anymore than we can take the spirit of generosity out of Santa Claus. The two are inseparably linked and when we celebrate that holiday the spirit of Christ is expressed through us. It doesn't matter if we do it with intent or with any concept of higher purpose in mind. Whether we, as individuals, are religious or even aware of the significance of the holiday matters not one bit. The true spirit of Christmas seeps through, unstoppable and undeniable. The very way in which we celebrate Christmas, even when removed from religious purpose, is by itself holy. Indeed, even the most avowed atheist, when celebrating the "secular" holiday of Christmas with trees, wreaths, colored lights and Santa Claus partakes in the sacredness of Christmas as well. For he who expresses himself with warmth, generosity, fellowship and goodwill draws himself closer to God whether he believes in him or not.

            Santa Claus knows we're all God's children
            That makes everything right.
            So fill your hearts with Christmas cheer
            'Cause Santa Claus comes tonight.

        So I suppose my granddaughter was actually pretty close to the mark when she was six or seven. Santa Claus may not have the authority to forgive us our trespasses, but he is the perfect symbol of Christmas, of the yearly celebration of the birth of one who can. And it is more than fitting that we celebrate that birth with buying and gift giving, with the joy, fellowship, and generosity that the Christmas tradition inspires regardless of whether we are mindful, as perhaps my granddaughter was in her innocence, that we do so in remembrance of the greatest Christmas gift of all – redemption.

            Peace on earth will come to all
            If we just follow the light.
            So let's give thanks to the Lord above
            That Santa Claus comes tonight.


Monday, December 15, 2014

A Ghost of Christmas Past

        It is the holiday season again. Christmas is hot on our heels and I am not ready. I still have presents to buy, a tree to get, cookies to bake, cards to write, and a wish list to make (my husband is really starting to hound me about the list, but I don't know what I want.) I'm finding it hard to get into the holiday spirit for some reason, which is strange for me because I'm usually a Christmas nut. Maybe I'm just tired. I have dealt with chronic pain for decades now, which is increasing as I get older and I have been having trouble sleeping again because of it. I certainly feel tired (and old too, I just turned fifty-nine today.) Maybe I'll perk up after I get a little sleep, whenever that happens. Also, my husband is working a lot so we are not together much, which bums me out. The whole situation is not conducive to engendering a holiday spirit but there is still time. That spirit is now loose in the world and could pounce on me at any moment.

        Remember when you were a kid and there was nothing, and I mean nothing that could dampen the Christmas spirit? No matter what was going on in the world or in your life, when Christmas rolled around it was "Joy to the World". And it wasn't just the whole Christmas presents thing either. That was just icing on the cake. It was everything else about Christmas that made it such a great time in our lives, the sights, the sounds, the smells, the food, the people, the happiness, the feeling of magic and wonder. That's what I love about Christmas today just as I did when I was a kid.

        This will be Kiley's first Christmas. She will be one year old in January so she won't remember it. None of us remember our first Christmas. But her parents will remember, and I will remember, and she will enjoy the moment as it happens even if the memory doesn't linger. Thinking back, I'm not sure which is the first Christmas I remember. The memories of five, six, and seven all sort of blend together, so I don't know for sure which memory of Christmas goes with which age. I do remember one Christmas for certain, though, because that year something different happened, something that stood out. If you are old enough, you probably remember it too.

        I turned nine years old in December of 1964. Christmas was coming and I, along with every other kid, was primed for the event by all of the lead-up that had been taking place since Thanksgiving. In school we had switched from Thanksgiving arts and crafts to Christmas arts and crafts and our classrooms were decorated with our creations as well as a Christmas tree, wreaths, and garland. The windows of the classroom were decorated with Christmas motifs using that white stenciling stuff that was so popular at the time. We were rehearsing the Christmas play and planning the Christmas party, everyone committed to bringing a particular "goody" that their mother had agreed to supply. The toy sections of various department store catalogs had been carefully perused and selections made in the full knowledge that there was never any guarantee that our wishes in that regard would be respected. The anticipation was unbearably ecstatic.
        The pathetically few Christmas TV specials designed for kids that were in existence back then were the final ingredient to our soup of excitement. In 1964 they consisted primarily of a Marionette feature that depicted "The Night Before Christmas" and "The Nativity". "The Night Before Christmas" as acted out by stringed puppets on TV, was mildly entertaining to a nine-year-old, but "The Nativity" was lame. We got enough of that kind of stuff in Sunday school. We always watched both of them anyway, regardless of their entertainment value. It was part of the tradition and, therefore, exciting. There was also the excellent "Mr. Magoo's Christmas Carol" which we all loved and had been a holiday TV staple since I was seven.

        Things were proceeding towards Christmas in the usual way when out of the blue something new happened. On TV, they started showing advertisements for a new Christmas special. It was called "Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer" and what glimpses we were afforded looked positively tantalizing. It was done in stop-motion animation, which made it stand out compared to the marionettes and the regular animation of Mr. Magoo. Everyone not a grown-up was talking about it in excited tones and had checked off the scheduled date, time and channel on their mental calendar.

        When the day of the airing finally arrived we were ready. I parted with my friends at dinnertime with the promise of comparing notes and critiquing the performance the next day. When the time arrived my whole family was clustered around the TV for the event which formed quite a crowd since I have nine brothers and sisters. I'm not sure all of them were present. My oldest brother was in the military at the time, my youngest brother was a baby, and my oldest sister was too busy being "engaged" to care about the truly important things in life like "Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer", but everyone else was there with bells on.

        The show started right on time and it was absolutely fabulous. From the moment the snowman that looked and sounded like Burl Ives came out, I was glued to the set and spell-bound by the riveting tale of this heroic young reindeer that was unfolding. Incredible! It was all there - the songs, the drama, the excitement, the pathos. And the characters! From the frozen Burl Ives (the narrator) to Clarice (the love interest), Hermey (steadfast friend and future dentist), Yukon Cornelius (intrepid prospector), The Bumble (good God!), Santa, the elves, the reindeer, the Misfit Toys, what nine year old could ask for more? And the fact that it was all done in stop-action was mind boggling! By the time of the climactic ending, I knew I had seen something of great import in the annals of film-making and I went to bed impatient for the morrow when I could share my thoughts with my friends.

        Everyone I knew proclaimed it a great show and it was thoroughly discussed and opinions about its most salient points expressed. We all agreed that mistreating anyone simply because of a "non-conformity" was wrong, and we all came away from the experience with important lessons about compassion, inclusiveness, and the evil of intolerance firmly implanted in our pre-adolescent psyches.

        The cultural impact of "Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer" can not be overstated. An entire generation was conditioned to believe that being an individual and going your own way was not only acceptable but actually preferable to the stifling conformity of previous generations. This led directly to the rebellion against the status quo and the subsequent upheaval that was so indicative of the 60's. Non-conformity became the new religion as the young cast off the accepted norms of appearance and behavior.  A nation wide cult of 'do your own thing" followed, culminating in the youth of America adopting new individual forms of dress, conduct and expression that had everyone under the age of thirty looking, talking, and thinking in exactly the same way. Let diversity reign!

        The years following that pivotal debut were marked by further forays into the stop-action Christmas special genre. Success breeds imitation and a plethora of similar though generally inferior offerings ensued. I can't say that any of them had a comparable effect on me, though not being nine years old anymore may have had something to do with that. Today, "Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer" is shown approximately a hundred million times during the Christmas season, which kind of takes the "special" out of Christmas special. But I'll be there to watch it at least one of those times along with the still excellent "Mr. Magoo's Christmas Carol". If that doesn't get me in the Christmas spirit then it ain't Christmas.


Monday, December 8, 2014

Night, Night. Sleep Tight.

The Nightmare Henry Fuseli (1741–1825)

        "Ah sleep! It is a gentle thing, beloved from pole to pole." That is so true! Take it from, someone who often suffers from insomnia, Coleridge was absolutely right, there are few things as pleasant as sleep. Most of the time, that is. Sometimes it is not so pleasant. "To sleep, perchance to dream, ay there's the rub." The word "rub" means "problem" and Shakespeare was talking about the "big sleep", of course, but the little sleep can sometimes be no picnic either. Not all sleep is peaceful and, just as Hamlet feared, it's not the sleeping that is the problem, it's the dreaming.

        Yep, I'm talking about nightmares, the "bad dreams" that wake our children up in the middle of the night and are the bane of every young child and their sleep deprived mothers. What are they, these "boogie man" dreams that haunt the night? The "mare" in nightmare raises the image of a female horse, and I have seen art and even cartoons depicting a nightmare as a dark horse, but the word actually comes from the Old English word "maere"; a mythological demon from Germanic folklore that tormented with frightening dreams. (Why is Germanic folklore always so dark? Hansel and Gretel, Rumpelstiltskin, good Lord!) Regardless of where the word comes from the actuality comes from within, from ourselves. Essentially then, a nightmare is our selves scaring ourselves. No wonder they are so frightening. Who knows better than ourselves what we are afraid of?

        Kiley woke up from her nap the other day in an absolute "state". She was crying inconsolably, disoriented, I didn't know what the matter was. It took a while to calm her down and after ruling out any injury I came to the conclusion she had awakened from a nightmare. What else could it be? But that raises the question: do babies have nightmares, and if so, about what?

        Babies spend a great deal of time sleeping. The younger they are the more they sleep. So with all of that sleeping going on is there a correspondingly large amount of dreaming as well, and therefore the potential for a larger amount of nightmares? Surprisingly enough, some research indicates that the answer is "no". Babies do not dream a lot, researchers say; in fact they may not dream at all. Some neuroscientists believe that babies are actually dreamless for the first couple of years! This despite the fact that babies spend much more of their sleeping time (about twice as much) in the REM (rapid eye movement) phase of sleep than adults do, and it is in the REM phase that adults dream. Neuroscientists believe, however, that REM sleep serves a different function in infants. It allows babies' brains to form new neural pathways and for different parts of the brain to become connected, a prerequisite for memory. Memory seems to be essential to dreaming and perhaps we don't dream when we are babies for the same reason we don't remember being babies – a lack of the ability to store memories. Later, REM sleep aides in the development of language, (similarly, young birds learn to "sing" during REM sleep.) 

        It is believed that dreaming is a mental process that forms in early childhood only after the ability to imagine things visually and spatially has been achieved (somewhere near the end of the first two years.) Not surprisingly, it seems the initial dreaming of small children is more primitive than adult dreams are. Even at the advanced age of four or five, children typically describe dreams that are passive and plain with no characters that move around and engage in action. This might be logical. Imagination, which is what dreams seem to be made of, grows with experience. The more you know the more you can imagine, and young children are not renowned for their knowledge. It isn't until about the age of seven or eight that children begin to have dreams with more structure, action, and plot. This is the same time when children gain a clear idea of their own identity and so begin putting themselves into their own dreams.

        I find all of that kind of stuff fascinating but other "experts" disagree with it and I am not really buying it. Since infants can't talk, all opinions on whether they dream or not must be based on supposition. I am sure any dreams a one-year-old might have are far more primitive than the dreams of a forty-year-old or even an eight-year-old, but to assume that they do not dream at all is jumping to conclusions. It may be true that very young children have a limited ability to form memories but that merely suggests a capacity for unsophisticated dreams not a total lack of dreaming. In the same vein, the static and plain dreams reported by four and five-year-olds may merely be the result of a limited ability to express themselves rather than a limitation in dreaming. (Over the years, I have learned to take whatever a four-year-old tells me with a grain of salt.) My husband is fond of relating some truly complex and horrific dreams he had at the age of four or five. (But then, over the years I have learned to take everything my husband tells me with a grain of salt too.) Still, I probably agree that it isn't until the age of seven or eight that sleeping becomes the nightly adventure that it is for most of our lives. And it is probably around that age when the "nightmare" takes its classic form.

        Sigmund Freud said that "dreams are the windows to the subconscious" and that they are often filled with symbolic imagery that has meaning only on a subconscious level. It may be that some dreams are an attempt by the subconscious to work through some unresolved internal conflict, but I don't believe that all dreams or even most dreams have some deep hidden meaning wrapped in symbolic imagery. Sometimes a grizzly bear wearing your father's tie while eating your mother is just a grizzly bear wearing your fathers tie while eating your mother, but regardless of any lack of deep meaning it is still horrific and wakes you up with a start. And that's what we are talking about here. What do you do when your child, of any age, wakes up from a nightmare?

        The obvious answer is that you need to follow your natural instincts and console them. Regardless of the child's age, consolation is the first step and with pre-lingual children the last step. Soothing sounds and soothing actions work good on them. For older children, more may be needed. I try to help them allay their fears by talking about what frightened them and, depending on their age and level of emotional development, using calm language to ease their trepidation. Helping them to understand that what happens in dreams does not affect the waking world is good if you can pull it off (for God's sake never let children see any of that Freddy Kruger stuff), but not all children waking from a nightmare can use cool logic to calm themselves. When talking about a nightmare, I find it best if you can get them to do most of the talking. Just as with guilt, fear can be relieved by unburdening one's self, it's cathartic. Drinking a glass of water usually helps, not because they are thirsty but because it is a common and ordinary action that helps bring them back to the real world and has a calming effect.

        Some children have more nightmares than others for whatever reason. Sometimes having them keep a diary or journal can be helpful. Girls seem to take to this kind of thing more than boys but boys can get into it too. It can be cathartic and fun and also helps develop writing skills. There are journals designed strictly for recording nightmares (see here) and are whimsical and fun. Habitual nightmares, however, might be a sign of something serious going on, perhaps in the waking world, and should be taken seriously. If it gets to the point where you find yourself wondering if your child needs professional help dealing with such an issue, stop wondering, the answer is probably yes. Even if you are wrong, better safe than sorry.

        We all have "favorite" nightmares that we remember all of our lives and often tell other people about. Many of them were dreamed in our childhood. We even have recurring nightmares that pop up here and there throughout our lives. The city of dreams is full of neighborhoods good and bad, and we can never tell, upon laying down our heads, which neighborhood the sleep bus will let us off in. But we spend one third of our life asleep for a reason. The waking world is a weary place for both our bodies and our souls, and sleep a gift that is given and gratefully received, whatever dreams may come.


Monday, December 1, 2014

Inside Out

        The munchkin and I had a short week together last week due to the holiday. I only had her Monday and Tuesday, which gave me five days off for Thanksgiving. Excellent! What with cooking Thanksgiving dinner for my family and getting caught up on some other things I needed the time off. Weather-wise, Monday and Tuesday were gorgeous days where I live, which is in the Mid-Atlantic Region. Monday was especially nice with temperatures around 70 degrees. Wow! It doesn't normally get that warm in late November around here. I seized the opportunity to get Kiley outside even though it was windy, because we won't be seeing any more days like that for a while. Winter is just about upon us and if it is anything like last year's bitter cold we won't be spending much time outside. It's time to close the shutters and hunker down until spring.

That doesn't mean we won't ever go outside during the cold months. I like to get Kiley outside as much as possible even in the winter because I am a firm believer in the axiom that fresh air is good for you. It's not just the freshness of the air outside that is beneficial, it is also the freshness of the surroundings, the change of scenery. Spending too much time trapped in the house has a bad effect on children. I can see it in Kiley after a string of rainy days. Being confined to the kitchen and family room areas of my house gets to her after a while, and she starts going stir crazy. All the toys in the world can't change that. To relieve this I'll often allow her to spend some time in the living room, which she sees as a real treat. She loves it in the living room even though there are no toys, TV or anything special to do in there. It's just the change of scenery, something different; that makes the living room desirable to her, that and the lure of the forbidden.

When she gets really antsy I let her go upstairs which is like another whole world to her. If the living room is a treat to her, the upstairs is nirvana. There is like a whole new universe up there for her to explore – four bedrooms, two bathrooms, and a big hallway. I let her climb the steps herself to reach this wonderland which is an adventure in itself. She loves to climb.  We get on the king-sized bed and roughhouse. I sometimes even fill the tub with warm water and let her play in it like a pool. She brings some floaty –toys in with her. She loves the tub.

Despite the many joys that can be found inside, none of it can compare to the outside. Kiley loves to be outside. Outside is where freedom lives, even though I am with her the whole time. In the warm weather she goes out in the backyard every day and I let her run barefoot in the grass. We have a baby pool for her and a baby swing. My husband and I made a "secret garden" for her, tucked away in an isolated corner of the yard. She has to go through a gated arbor to enter it, covered with flowering vines, and there is a little bench where she can sit surrounded by flowers and little garden sculptures. She loves it in there, even though the butterflies scare her sometimes, and she likes to have the arbor gate closed behind her once she has entered. I suspect the older she gets the more appealing the "secret garden" will be; that is until she gets so old that the magic dims.

The "Secret Garden" when it was first planted. Before it became overgrown and wild!

I plan to take her outside as much as possible in the winter as well, because she likes it so much. There won't be as much to do in the cold, but the fresh air and change of scenery will do her good. When it snows she'll have a blast. You have to keep a close eye on little ones when they are outside in the winter, even more so than in the summer. In the summer a little sunscreen is all they need for protection against the elements, but the cold is much more dangerous than the sun and much harder to gauge. I'll have to keep a close eye on the weather reports this winter with a special interest in the wind and the chill factor. Fifteen or twenty minutes outside in the cold is about as much as toddlers can bear. You have to be sure to keep their fingers and ears covered and keep a close eye on their faces. When their cheeks turn red it is time to go in.

Once the holidays are over and we get into the deep winter of January and February the opportunities for outside forays become limited. You don't want to take a toddler outside when it is twelve degrees. It looks to be a long winter coming up but an eventful one. Kiley will turn one year old this winter, in January, and by the time the flowers start sprouting again she'll probably start talking. I predict one of the first words she learns will be "outside" – right after "Mommy", "Daddy" and, of course, "Nan".


Monday, November 24, 2014


       I'm Supernan. It's true; I'm a superhero. I became aware of my super abilities only recently. It came as quite a shock actually, because I have never been particularly athletic or prone to heroics. My physical prowess was always limited to some small skill in volleyball and bowling, and that was when I was a teenager. Nowadays, about the most strenuous thing I can manage is a leisurely walk around the block pushing a stroller (and even that less than Olympian activity primes me for a nap). Never the less, in recent days it has come to my attention that I am capable of superhuman feats beyond the abilities of mere mortals. Perhaps I have always been capable of the impossible, but just never knew it. More likely, I have only recently acquired such powers, through agents or agencies unknown, and it came upon me so gradually that I was unaware of my special-ness until it was too obvious to be ignored.  It is always thus. The gifted have greatness thrust upon them and are no more able to resist their destiny than Forest Gump. Feathers in the wind.

       So the fact is, I am now Supernan. And what, you may ask, has prompted me to leap to such an unusual conclusion? The evidence is apparent and overwhelming. I have known for some time that my powers of hearing have increased, in fact risen to the level of super ability, and I wrote about it in an earlier post (see I Heard That -May 19th). But that can be attributed to several possible causes which have nothing to do with my being superhuman. On the other hand, in light of recent events, my superhuman-ness cannot be totally discounted as the origin of this ability, and I am reserving judgement at this point. Super hearing is not all that impressive or useful anyway. I can think of a lot of powers more desirable, like a beam of energy from your eyes, maybe, or the ability to move objects with your mind. I don't see anything like either of those as being likely, however, and there is no evidence that I have acquired such gifts, at least not as of right now. So let me tell you of the powers I do have. I discovered them just the other day and it's incredible really.

Here is what happened. I had gone to the kitchen to refill Kiley's sippy cup with apple juice. She was out in the family room, which connects to the kitchen, with a half-wall between them. She is close to eleven months old now and getting pretty good at getting around. She's a big climber too, as I've mentioned before, and you have to keep half an eye on her at all times or she might end up standing on top of the TV or tight roping along the back of the sofa. We have a sectional sofa in the family room, one of those "L" shaped deals, with a big ottoman that I push into the angle of the "L" to create a larger open floor area in the family room for Kiley to play in. It also creates a wide expanse of cushiony sofa/ottoman for Kiley to romp on.

         Like I said, she likes to climb and this cushiony plateau is ideal for her to indulge that desire. She gets up there and runs around on the plushy softness and we wrestle and roughhouse up there where a fall onto the cushions is fun for her. I don't let her up there unless I am with her because the fall from the plateau to the floor is eighteen inches and could result in a serious boo-boo. However, I am of the opinion that it is desirable to allow small children to indulge in somewhat risky behavior, as long as you are there to supervise and prevent any ridiculousness. It's important for them as they grow, to be encouraged to be confident in experimenting and in exploring the world. This is especially true for girls who are not as naturally inclined to risky behavior as are boys. (Anyone who has raised boys knows exactly what I am talking about). Risk takers are winners, and besides, "a child without courage is like a night without stars." For this reason we often play such little games as "Superbaby!!!!" When playing "Superbaby!!!!", Kiley stands on the plateau while I kneel in front of it on the floor. She then runs, or the eleven-month-old equivalent there of, and dives off the ottoman into my waiting arms while I yell "Superbaby!!!!". At not quite eleven months old the "dive" off of the ottoman is more like a "fall" off of the ottoman, but you get the idea. It's fun for her.

        Well, like I said, I had gone to the kitchen to refill her sippy cup and Kiley was in the family room about fifteen feet away, watching Mickey Mouse Clubhouse. As I am returning the apple juice container to the fridge, having refilled "sippy", I catch motion in my peripheral vision. I turn to see Kiley peering over the half-wall at me, which can only mean one thing - she is standing on the ottoman! Boy, are they quick when they want to be! As our eyes meet, time stands still, and I realize that those are not the sweet, innocent, eyes of Kiley that I am looking into, they are the daring, fearless eyes of "Superbaby!!!!". Oh, sh_t!

        Everything seems to move in slow motion. I don't remember dropping the sippy cup as I begin to move toward Kiley, but I remember hearing it hit the kitchen floor and the splashing sound it made before I had finished my first step. Kiley has, at this point, turned her head away from me, and begun, again in seemingly slow motion, to move forward. Using my "I mean business" voice, I yell her name, but she doesn't even seem to hear me as she takes a step toward the edge of the ottoman. By the time I take two more running steps and reach the end of the half-wall, "Superbaby!!!!" has reached the edge of the ottoman, and I realize, "I am not going to make it!"  Stopping her from taking the fateful leap is no longer possible. "Superbaby!!!!" is about to fly. The only hope now is to break her fall, but I immediately realize that this is impossible too. At this critical juncture there is a good ten feet and the arm of the sofa separating us, and she is beginning her leap. If I was eighteen and everything went absolutely right, I could possibly dive over the arm of the sofa and, reaching out, get one hand under her before she hit the floor. But I haven't been eighteen for forty years and there is no way I can "dive" even half that distance. Still, desperation is the mother of hope, and as "Superbaby!!!!" takes flight, I dive.

        As my feet leave the safety of the floor, I remember thinking, in a surprisingly calm way, that I'm probably only going to make it about halfway to my preferred destination. This means I will probably land with my abdomen on the arm of the sofa, breaking a fifty-eight year old rib or two and possibly sustaining internal injuries. At this particular moment, I am probably in more danger of injury than Kiley is. But, amazingly, this does not happen. I clear the arm of the sofa with room to spare and manage to get not just one hand but both hands under Kiley before she gets anywhere near the floor! Incredible!

        I'm stunned for a moment. I'm lying there on the floor, on my stomach, with my knees and feet on the sofa. Kiley is laughing and attempting to climb back up onto the ottoman for another "go" when I suddenly realize what has just happened. You, sitting and reading this in the safety and comfort of your own home, no doubt immediately saw the reality of what had transpired. With all of the excitement and stress, however, it took me a few moments to realize it. The fact remains that there is no possible way that I could have made that dive half way across the family room in the wink of an eye, not at my age. There can only be one possible conclusion – I flew! Yes, you must see it too. I flew! I can fly! And I have super speed too! But that is secondary to the fact that I can fly. I've always wanted to be able to fly, ever since I was a kid. Who hasn't? And now I can! I can fly! I CAN FLYYYYYY!!!!!!! When I told my husband about it he looked dubious, so I offered to prove it to him by jumping off the garage roof, in fact I insisted on it. He held me down until I promised not to, but he will be working this coming weekend and I'll give it a go then.

        So now I'm Supernan with super speed and the ability to fly. The only thing to do now is to hone my flying skills and figure out what to do with my super-ness. Crime fighting is so passe'. It will have to be something bigger, something for the benefit of all mankind. Maybe I can figure out a way to simultaneously finish the XL Pipeline and halt global warming, you know, placate the green and pro-energy movements at the same time and shut them both up for a change. I'll have to come up with a super hero uniform, though. I'm leaning toward something in a pink spandex with a big "N" on the chest. Getting my butt to look good in spandex might be a challenge but I'm starting to think I can probably do just about anything. After all, I can fly can't I?


Monday, November 17, 2014

What Are You Watching?

         Kid's shows. Do you let your preschoolers watch TV? I do. I know there are those who don't let their children watch TV, who cling to the old but bizarre notion that watching TV is bad for kids. That was the "in" thing to aver back when, and has been a common wisdom for decades, but I think it is grounded in unthinking prejudice and herd mentality rather than any kind of objective facts. It just sounds educated and caring when you mouth anti-TV dogma, but I don't buy it. There is nothing wrong with using the TV to entertain your kids as long as you are not using it as a baby sitter and a substitute for personal interaction (at least not too much). And if you are the type to overuse the TV for those purposes your kids are going to be screwed up whether they watch TV or not.

        That said, not all programming is equal, of course. There are good shows and bad shows. What is good and bad is subject to individual taste, I'm sure, but even so, there are some really bad kid's shows out there. Have you noticed? I mean really lame ones. Some are so bad that I can't imagine that they could possibly have any viewers. At least that's what I thought before I started hanging around with Kiley.

        Like many people, I have the TV on all the time. Even if I am not watching anything, the TV is on. (This speaks very highly of the state of modern electronics. The TV is on all day every day for years on end and never needs to be repaired. Incredible!)  Maybe my TV addiction says something about a need for constant stimulation, or an aversion to being alone, or some other psychic failure but I'm not worrying about it. I usually have the news or some DYI program on. I like house renovation and house buying programs too, and crime investigation shows, you know, the true life ones where some horrible example of the dark underbelly of human nature is delved into. But most of the time I am busy doing something else and not watching anything, it's just on for background noise.

        When Kiley started hanging around I changed my choices of background noise. Even if she could talk or understand English, I don't think what is happening on the news would be relevant for her, and the dark underbelly of human nature is certainly inappropriate for a less-than-one-year-old. So I switched to kid's shows for background, and as luck would have it, there is a vast pile of inane programming to choose from.

        I'm a big advocate of pulling the band-aid off quick, getting the hard stuff over with as soon as possible. So let's get the controversy out of the way right from the get-go. If I'm going to stir up the wrath of the masses let's do it now. Sesame Street sucks, okay? Ever since it's debut a billion years ago, Sesame Street has been proclaimed the ultimate kid's show. But it's not. It's just a clever puppet show disguised as educational TV so parents would make their kids watch it and not feel guilty about using the TV as a baby sitter. If it weren't for The Muppets the show would have never even gotten off the ground so spare me the fake education and just give me The Muppets. Attempting to create a learning experience out of every little thing is boring. Math is boring, even when puppets do it. If you want to learn to count go to school. Elmo is okay, but I don't want my tax dollars spent on this junk. Sesame Street is a bigger con game than Bernie Madoff had going. They make hundreds of millions on Sesame Street merchandising and they need my hard earned tax dollars to bankroll their crummy show? It's thievery. Come on PBS, knock it off! Having puppets steal for you is pretty low. And yes, Obama, I am waging a war on Big Bird. Bring him on, Thanksgiving is coming.

        Okay, let's get down to the real kid's shows. I surfed through the children's programming to find what I liked, so let me mention a few. I liked "Peter Rabbit" for one. I like the way it looks, warm and kind of fuzzy. There is also a bit of adventure and tension due to all of the nefarious characters out to get Peter and his siblings – the farmer, the fox, the cat.

        Sheriff Callie's Wild West is good. I like the way Callie handles herself. She has that magic lasso and all. Sheriff Callie is also the only sane critter in the whole town. Everyone else is one kind of lunatic or another who needs a strong woman (or cat) to keep them out of trouble. There's just one thing – how come every time Sheriff Callie sings "Yippee-ki-oh-ki-yay" I think of Bruce Willis?

        Doc McStuffins is great. If you haven't seen it, Doc is a little girl who has set up a medical clinic for toys. When no one else is around but Doc, toys come to life, and every episode she ends up having to fix one of her charges that become broken in some way. What I like about it is not the way the toys transform, though they do have cute personalities, but rather the way Doc transforms. Under normal circumstances Doc is just a kid with parents as authority figures (and yes, even they call her Doc), but when she is alone with the toys, she becomes the authority figure. Doc becomes the grownup with all of the answers and her toys are like children, depending on Doc for everything. I think its' good that children can see another child as a capable authority figure (Doc can fix anything), as well as pleasant, caring and kind.

        Tinkerbelle is also good. It is beautifully drawn, even if it is CGI, and the characters and the world they live in are beautiful too. All of the fairy girls have such beautiful faces and are so graceful when they fly. The plots are typical Disney stuff but the look is charming. And that's the trouble with these kid's shows. The content is purposely juvenile so it is hard for an adult to determine what shows a child would find interesting. Most of the kid's shows I like, I like because of the way they look not because of the infantile plots.  What would Kiley like? That's the question. And the answer is, believe it or not, Mickey Mouse.

        Kiley loves "Mickey Mouse Clubhouse", a basically mindless offering on the Disney channel. I hate this show. All of the characters from a hundred years ago are still there with Mickey – Minnie, Goofy, Pluto, Donald and Daisy Duck, and the villain Pete. The characters have changed somewhat from their original conception. Goofy is not just goofy anymore; he's downright stupid. Goofy does a lot of shtick revolving around his "smelly" shoes and socks, and for some reason Goofy is forever losing his pants. If I didn't know better I'd think he was doing it on purpose. The car crashes, Goofy loses his pants, fall off a ladder, off go the pants, dive into the pool; Goofy's pants are floating. So Goofy spends much of the time stripped down to his skivvies and said skivvies have pineapples on them. It's weird. I'm tired of looking at Goofy's underwear.

        Donald Duck, who was always manic in the past, is now simply insane. He never has any idea what is actually going on and destroys everything he touches.  The other characters are always having to console him for his stupidity and continuous failure at everything he does. Daisy Duck, on the other hand, who was never more than a minor character in the past, is now a major force in the Mickey Mouse world. Yes, Daisy Duck! She is smart, brave and resourceful (as far as cartoon ducks go). She even has an alter ego, Daisy O'Dare, who is a Laura Croft kind of character that has whole episodes of the program devoted to her.

        Pete, who is huge compared to the other characters, looks kind of like a bear but is actually a cat. He is the villain of the show, though even the villain is dumbed down in Mickey's world. Pete's villainy amounts to little more than taking advantage of the others whenever possible and bemoaning the fact that he is unpopular. Going for a walk, everyone? There's Pete setting up a tollbooth and charging for passage. Opening a boutique, Minnie? There's Pete stealing your best bows to sell in his own shop. Once in a while Pete will have an epiphany and realize that popularity is linked to caring and friendship but the lessons never take and the next episode he's right back to being a prick. What do you expect from a cat in a mouse's world?

        And then there's Mickey. This mouse is an absolute megalomaniac. He thinks everything is all about him, and you know what, it is all about him! This is Mickey's world and everyone else just lives in it. Everywhere you go on this show there are images of Mickey. The clubhouse itself is a giant set of Mickey ears with all kinds of weird crap going on inside, and all of it having to do with Mickey. The other characters all adore Mickey (especially Minnie); they practically worship at the shrine of Mickey. Mickey is the undisputed leader of the club that's made for you and me and whatever Mickey wants Mickey gets.  It is a straight up cult of personality. I keep expecting Mickey to put on sunglasses and start handing out Kool-Aid.

And yet Kiley loves this show. It is, by far, her favorite. When the theme song starts she goes into a dance and is mesmerized as long as Mickey is on the screen. I don't know if it's the way Mickey looks, or Mickey's voice, or what it is, but small children have loved Mickey for practically ever, and it doesn't look like it's going to stop anytime soon. We got the Mickey Mouse figures for Kiley to play with and she loves them. She plays with them all the time. She especially loves Minnie. She has Minnie Mouse pajamas, Minnie Mouse shirts, Minnie Mouse socks. Minnie is pleasant enough in a wide-eyed sort of way, but she is also vain and kind of scatter-brained.

        At first I didn't think Kiley was old enough to understand anything that was going on in Mickey's Clubhouse. I figured she was just attracted to the music and bright colors, but I was wrong. Though, at not yet one, she can't possibly be following even the minimal plots offered by the show, she is still picking up simple concepts from what she is watching. It's Pete. She doesn't like Pete. She doesn't like the toy figure of Pete, even though it is smiling and looks as pleasant as the other figures. The Pete figure is not allowed to play with the other figures. When we put the toys away the Pete figure is not allowed to be in the same box as the other figures.  Pete is persona non grata. She has somehow figured out that Pete is not a nice guy. It must be subliminal. Is it intentional as well, some kind of experiment? How much have the Disney scientists learned about the minds of children over the past millenium of Disney programming? How much have they learned about manipulating those minds? What's really going on down in the Disney labs? Who knows what else Kiley is picking up from these "shows"? What other messages are creeping into the little minds of the unwary? To what predetermined end does such slavish devotion to a seemingly harmless icon lead? Where's Annette and what have you done to her?

        You know what? I've changed my mind. TV is bad for kids. Turn it off! God only knows what warped view of reality is coming through the tube. Insanity, stupidity, vanity, megalomania, smelly socks - talk about your dark underbelly of human nature. And all from a cartoon! Don't let Mickey get his hooks into our little ones. In the end, there is only room for one God in the universe and he doesn't have ears like that. And Goofy, there are children present for God's sake, put your damn pants on!


Monday, November 10, 2014


        "Security" is a good word. Its uses are legion in advertising and government because it is such a good word. It’s a warm and fuzzy word that conveys competence, protection, reliability, trustworthiness, and makes us feel, well, secure, especially about things that are scary or worrisome. Thus, our masters in Washington use terms like "National Security" when talking about spies and the military; "Social Security" when talking about old people; "Border Security" when talking about illegal immigration; "Homeland Security" when talking about terrorism; and "National Security Adviser" when talking about a deceitful sycophant. All of this despite the fact that none of these things provide all that much security anymore. The military is being gutted; Social security is bankrupt; the border is as porous as Sponge Bob; and Homeland Security is now primarily an excuse to frisk our two-year-olds at the airport.

Still, security is a great word because we all desire security. From the eighty-year- old granny worried about her fixed income to the traumatized five-year-old sucking her thumb on the first day of school, security is an important human need. Kiley, like every human, craves security, but, unlike us adults, she doesn't need a military, or a border patrol, or an airport frisker to provide her with the security she needs. All she needs is a little eighteen-inch-square piece of cloth with the tiny head and arms of a bear sticking out of the center of it, (kind of like a stuffed bear with a little blanket for a body), to provide her with all of the comfort and security she requires. It provides no protection. It provides no competence. It provides no reliability or trustworthiness. The only thing it provides is a sense of security, and it does that one thing extremely well. It is security incarnate, and its name is "Snuggy".

From time immemorial small children have been using inanimate objects to provide them with a sense of security. I wouldn't be surprised to learn that Neanderthal Baby had an old piece of Wooly Mammoth hide to cling to at naptime. In the past, I'm sure everyone remembered them fondly, but the "security blanket" was something that was merely tolerated by parents, sometimes even discouraged as a sign of weakness. It wasn't until the comic strip Peanuts highlighted Linus's obvious addiction that the security blanket became an American icon. Ever since then the "blanky, or "wooby", or "lovey" or whatever name we or our toddlers came up with, has been an indispensable item, an integral part of the family.

How important a part of the family it is can't be overstated. Kiley loves Snuggy. Kiley needs Snuggy. Kiley cannot be without Snuggy. When she is hurt, or sad, or sick Snuggy is a helpful assistant in making her feel better. Any other time Snuggy is simply out of mind. You might find poor Snuggy on the floor, or under the sofa, or carelessly cast aside anywhere at all when Kiley is busy with other things in her life. At naptime or bedtime, however, Snuggy is absolutely indispensable. There is no sleep without Snuggy. There is no peace without Snuggy. So Snuggy has to be available at all times and nothing must ever happen to Snuggy.

Because of its indispensability and the duty it is required to perform, Snuggy is often, shall we say, less than perfectly clean in appearance. Despite the fact that Snuggy is the recipient of numerous unsavory substances – puke, pee, snot, tears, milk, jelly, or just plain old dirt – getting it into the washing machine is a difficult thing that requires subterfuge and misdirection to accomplish. Small children are often extremely protective of their woobys and if they become aware that you are about to do anything as drastic as putting their most precious possession into the washer, they are often horrified, and will have none of it. I don't know if this is because they think the washing machine will hurt Blanky or that they merely prefer a dirty Wooby to a clean one. Snuggy's familiar smell, I believe, is half the appeal.

Needless to say, nothing must ever happen to make Snuggy unavailable when called upon to perform its duties. I once made the mistake of letting that unfortunate circumstance occur. It was an accident, an oversight. My husband (Uncle Tom) and I had taken Kiley on a trip to the mall. (Taking Kiley to the mall is like taking Kiley to the zoo. We're not there to shop, per se, we're there to show Kiley a good time.) We took her to the Disney store, which she loves. Uncle Tom pushed her in the stroller real fast, making the sounds of revving engines and squealing tires while making turns too sharp for my comfort and popping wheelies by the fountain, all while Kiley shrieked with delight. We sat her on the coin operated rides without turning them on. We took her to the bookstore, Uncle Tom's favorite store, and rode up to the second floor in the elevator. That's where the children's books are, which never made any sense to me. Why put the children's books on the second floor, which requires herding children onto the escalator in order to get to them? Then we stopped of at the food court for a snack, and went home. Perfect!

The trip to the mall was, indeed, perfect. We all got out of the house for a while, Kiley had lots of fun, and she was now primed for a good, long nap. Except for one thing. As I am unloading the car, I cannot find Snuggy! Panic sets in and I become more and more frantic as I tear the car apart in search of what cannot, under any circumstances, be missing. But it is! The worst has happened! We lost Snuggy at the mall! I briefly entertain the possibility of returning to the mall and searching it from top to bottom but abandon this as impractical. There is nothing else to do except attempt naptime without Snuggy. This, of course, is doomed to failure. Kiley eventually cries herself to sleep but it doesn't last long, and she soon wakes up miserable. Added to this unpleasantness, I now have to face her mother and inform her of my incompetence and the unforgivable thing that I let happen. Fortunately, her mother was not upset. In fact she has a spare Snuggy at home for just such an occurrence. The wise mother is prepared for all contingencies.

The fact that an inanimate object can cause such potential trouble and be so important to our children and our selves is remarkable. What is it about a stuffed animal, blanket, or sometimes even a favorite toy that makes it indispensable? What magic transforms lifeless matter into a beloved friend? In the world of psychology these wondrous things are known as "transitional objects" and the psychology explanation for them is complicated but fascinating. Apparently, as far as I am able to understand it, infants do not initially see their mothers as separate entities but rather as merely a different aspect of themselves (not hard to understand since it was just a short while ago that they were actually physically connected). During this early phase, mother brings to the infant whatever it needs and desires. Because it sees the mother as just another part of itself, this creates the illusion that wishing for a thing creates the thing desired, and with this illusion comes a sense of power (referred to as subjective omnipotence). As it grows, the child begins to realize that things are either "me" or "not me" and that the mother is actually separate from its self. With this realization comes a sense of loss, the loss of part of itself, the most powerful part, and therefore, a loss of power. The child becomes aware that it is dependent on others to satisfy its needs and with this realization comes anxiety. It takes an extended time for the child to fully separate itself from the mother in particular, and to bridge the gap between the "me" and the "not me" in general. To relieve the anxiety that accompanies this transition a child will often create a "transitional object" (Snuggy) that embodies all of the attributes of the part of itself that it has lost – the mother. Not only does creating this "transitional object" temporarily bridge the widening gap between itself and the mother, but also returns to the child a sense of power, the power to once again, through fantasy, create what it desires. As the child develops further it is able to bridge the gap between the "me" and the "not me", between the self and the mother. At this point the transition is complete and the "transitional object" is no longer needed. Snuggy once again becomes inanimate. Even so, it often retains sentimental value for the child, which is understandable considering all that they have been through together.

So, with all of that under our belts, let's all enjoy, indeed love, Snuggy while we can, for "Snug" will not forever be what it is now. The magic will inevitably fade, and whatever pixie dust it is that lends it those special powers of security will dissipate along with Kiley's need for them. And remember moms, it isn't that often dingy, smelly old rag that holds such a special place in your little ones' hearts. That sometimes nasty, though beloved, object of affection is merely an icon, an avatar if you will, a symbolic representation to all the Kileys of the world of something far greater. Its not Snuggy that they long for, and cling to, and can't be without – its you.


Monday, November 3, 2014


        There is a monster in my house. I'm not speaking metaphorically, here. I am absolutely serious. I am talking about a real monster like Frankenstein or the Wolfman. Although it has terrorized my domicile for some time now, I came to be aware of its true nature only recently, for it is endowed with the ultimate camouflage, the uncanny ability to appear to be what it is not. For many months now I have made the mistake of taking this "changeling" at face value, accepting it for what it seems to be, what it pretends to be, rather than what it truly is. In outward appearance it resembles nothing more frightening than a small, harmless, even affectionate child; a cherubic ten month old that answers to the name of "Kiley". This, however, is merely a façade, a disguise adopted to lull the unwary into a false sense of security, and pave the way for the beast within to emerge. And emerge, it does. Like Larry Talbot in the light of the full moon, like doctor Jekyll after drinking the potion, like a Magwai after a good hosing down, my seemingly angelic charge has the ability to transform from an innocent and harmless babe in arms into the ultimate in horrifying fussiness – "Crankenstein".

Don't let the cute little smile fool you...

Everyone has a bad day now and then. We all get moody, cranky, depressed, what have you. When we adults are faced with a bad day, no matter what the cause, we just have to cope with it. Unfortunately babies aren't good at coping. That's something that has to be learned, it's a matter of self-control and comes only through experience.  Babies, because they are what they are, lack self-control and coping skills. And so, when baby has a bad day everyone in the vicinity has a bad day.

If there is one thing that babies know how to do, it's how to have a bad day. Teething, diaper rash, vaccinations, colds, or any number of other unpleasantries can send the best of babies into the depths of despair and they are all too happy to drag you down there with them. This can be very unsettling, because babies can be so great. Kiley can be as sweet as Tupelo honey. Butter wouldn't melt in her mouth, happy, affectionate, easy to please and eager to please, a joy to have around. But when she has a bad day, look out! And there is no in between. She can be absolutely hot and cold, pleasant as can be one day and a first class ditch witch the next; agreeable as can be in the morning and impossible in the afternoon, or vice versa; and all without warning.

        So when "Crankenstein " emerges there is really very little that can be done. Oh, I do my best to lighten her mood and keep her happy – you know, the usual, I play with her, read to her, keep her occupied as best I can, but it's all like holding a cross in front of Dracula. It keeps the monster at bay but doesn't change its nature. Fortunately, Magwais eventually dry out, and the moon can't be full all the time, so the best strategy for battling "Crankenstain"' is to keep her occupied as much as possible and wait for the monster to recede. Still, there are times when the only effective strategy for controlling "Crankenstein" is to rouse the local villagers into a torch-carrying mob and drive the beast back into its lair. I'm sure that's what they mean when they say, "It takes a village to raise a child."


Monday, October 27, 2014

Long-Leggedy Beasties

        Halloween! It's upon us and I'm getting excited. I love Halloween.  I have always loved Halloween. It's my second favorite Holiday, right after Christmas. The decorations, the costumes, the pumpkins, the candy; Halloween has so much going for it, especially for kids. Candy!

        Halloween is not the same today as it was when I was a kid. I suppose the traditions have changed to reflect changes in society as a whole. When I was a kid the whole Halloween thing started in the beginning of October, and it was in the classroom where it all began. Halloween was an opportunity to teach. We read "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow". We learned about the origins of Halloween and the melding of pagan practices with Christian beliefs. We all brought in costumes and had a Halloween parade, (inevitably one or more clueless kids would forget their costumes, and be forced to resort to the perennial back-up position –a brown paper bag on their heads with holes cut into it for eyes, nose, and mouth.) But best of all, we did Halloween arts and crafts and decorated our classrooms with witches, pumpkins, black cats, and ghosts that we created with crayons, construction paper, scissors, and paste. All of this pre-Halloween activity heightened our anticipation for the actual event and when Halloween finally arrived we were primed and ready.

        When I was a kid, store bought costumes were big, mostly cartoon characters, (you know, Casper the Friendly Ghost, Fred Flintstone) but a lot of kids still wore homemade costumes designed by themselves or their parents. The actual collecting of candy was different then too. No parents accompanied us on our ghostly sojourn. The kids were on their own, even at a young age, and traveled through the night in little packs of friends, the older kids looking out for the younger ones. Everyone in the neighborhood knew both you and your parents, so, when you showed up at your neighbor's doors dressed for Halloween, there was a ritual involved before you got your candy. They'd usher you into the house, and you would stand there in their living room while they asked you questions to which you would either nod yes or shake your head no (your voice might give you away)– do I know you? - do you live on this street? – do you have any brothers? etc. The point was to guess who you were under your disguise. Does anyone remember that? It took an inordinate amount of time, and resulted in less candy at the end of the night, but added to the fun, especially if you were wearing a costume you made yourself.

        Today things are different. In many places Halloween is banned from schools. We can't have kids cutting out paper ghosts and witches in our schools, one idiot in twenty million might, somehow, be offended. God forbid! Halloween parade? Impossible! Some kid might not have a costume and then he might feel bad about himself because of his pathetic costumelessness. We can't have that! "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow"? Forget it! If it was written by a misogynistic, elitist, male oppressor of European descent then it is unbecoming of an educational institution dedicated to the propagation of inclusive diversity in a multicultural society. Candy? Don't even go there! I don't thing Michelle would approve. All right, all right, hold on a second. Give me minute to calm down.

        Okay, I'm cool.  In the end, Halloween is still great despite the efforts of the petty tyrants who want to ruin everything of value in our country. And like I said at the top – Halloween is now upon us. And this will be Kiley's first Halloween. She won't be too impressed this time around, she's only ten months old, but her parents are going to love it. She's their first child and they get to dress her up, take a million pictures, and show her off to everyone who loves her. It's going to be precious in the extreme. I remember my first child's first Halloween. We dressed her up as a fairy princess. Kiley's going as an elephant.


Monday, October 20, 2014

The Chronicles of Nannia - Episode Four

        Here it is the middle of October and you know what that means don't you? Yep, Christmas is right around the corner. It is never too early to begin your shopping because two months will pass in the wink of an eye. This year I have two extra loved ones to buy for – Kiley and my grandson Evan, who is five months Kiley's junior. What do you buy for an almost one-year-old? What do they want? The answer, of course, is "nothing" other than a full stomach, a dry bottom, and a warm place to sleep – animal comforts. Unfortunately, you can't buy animal comforts and wrap them up in colorful paper. So I suppose I'll end up falling back on the old standby of a few nice outfits and a stuffed toy – things that will impress their mothers far more than them. But that is the way of the world. When you don't know what they want or like, you end up buying them what you think they will like, which is more often than not, what you like. That can be very disappointing all around.

        It is the rare occasion when you know exactly what your children want with no question about it and when that happens you do whatever you can to make that dream come true, within reason. Unfortunately, what they want can sometimes be difficult to obtain because their desires are often larger than your pocketbook. Other times the thing wanted just can't be had, not for love nor money. I remember a year when my oldest daughter wanted only one thing in the "whole wide world". You might remember it too because that year every girl, and even some boys, all wanted the same thing.

The year is 1983. Michael Jackson's "Thriller" album goes to #1 and stays at #1 for thirty-seven weeks. Ameritech Mobile Communications (now known as Cingular) launches the first U.S. cellular network in Chicago, Illinois. President Ronald Reagan refers to the Soviet Union as an "evil empire". Martin Luther King day becomes a federal holiday. Soviet military officer Stanislav Petrov averts worldwide nuclear war by judging that a nuclear missile attack from the United States, detected by the Soviet Early Nuclear Warning System, is an error. Sally Ride becomes the first female U.S. astronaut to go into space. My three daughters are now nine years, three years, and one year old, and I am twenty-eight.

        In 1983 money is getting a little tight for our family. With a mortgage to pay and three kids to feed and clothe, things would be difficult under any circumstances but they are particularly worrisome now because my husband has recently taken a pay-cut. I find this a hard pill to swallow because the cut in pay is voluntary.

        Working in a chemical manufacturing plant where membership in the union is a mandatory condition of employment, my husband is subject to complicated rules and procedures associated with seniority rights. There is plant seniority, area seniority, department seniority, etc. each with its own set of rules and privileges. There is a power structure within the local union that is dominated by certain union members who work in particular departments. Consequently, over the years the union contract with the company has been negotiated in a way that grants special rights and privileges to the employees in those particular departments. Not all departments are equal in rights and opportunities. I find all of this incomprehensible when my husband explains it to me. How can people united for a common purpose work against each other for individual gain? When I express that opinion to my husband he simply laughs. The bottom line is my husband needs to move into another department in order to position himself for future benefits. When you move into a different department you have to start at the bottom. This means that we are not looking to have a good Christmas in 1983.

        So faced with the prospect of living on a real tight budget, I'm racking my brains trying to figure out how to make some extra money, especially since Christmas is coming. While this is going on a cultural phenomenon is taking place in America. Cabbage Patch Kids burst onto the scene and are soon a must have item in every family with young children. Little girls everywhere and their parents as well are going berserk over these things. Stores are selling out of these dolls as soon as they come in. Lines are forming in front of toy stores across the nation with reports of fights and mini riots whenever the supply can not meet the overwhelming demand. A black market springs up offering Cabbage Patch Kids at more than twice the retail price and these are going just as fast. The dolls even make the cover of Newsweek. It is mass hysteria!

        My own nine-year-old is not immune to the insanity, nor am I as I become determined to satisfy her longing. Easier said than done. The demand far exceeds the supply and money is not enough to get you what you want. Luck and determination are also required. It is the only thing my daughter wants for Christmas so I travel everywhere determined to get my hands on one, but it's a crapshoot because thousands of mothers in my immediate vicinity are doing the exact same thing. One early morning while I am standing in line (in the dark) waiting for Toys R Us to open and noting with disbelief how many desperate mothers are in front of me, an idea germinates within. If people are going so crazy over these dolls they might just go crazy over items associated with these dolls. In future years there will be an infinite number of Cabbage Patch Kids accessories but at the moment there are very few. Opportunity knocks.

        I know how to sew and I know how to make clothes from patterns so I come up with a plan and put it into motion. The Cabbage Patch Kid's bodies are standardized, which means one size fits all, so I borrow a Cabbage Patch Kid from a lucky friend and using its dimensions design and create Cabbage Patch Kids clothes – little skirts, little pants, shirts, coats, overalls, shorts, little outfits. They are all relatively easy to make and I run them through my sewing machine as fast as I can. When I have a fair supply I plunk down ten dollars and rent a table at a local craft fair. I bring about fifty outfits with me and offer them for $4.00 apiece. I cross my fingers because the dolls themselves are selling for only $20.00. People scarf them up. Everyone is thrilled with them and I am sold out in a couple of hours. I am sitting there with two hundred bucks in my hand! That's two hundred 1983 bucks, mind you!

        Excited and inspired by my success, I kick production into high gear and start churning them out of my sewing machine every day and deep into every night. I am selling them to friends and family and at craft shows. My husband is selling them to co-workers. With Christmas coming I can't make them fast enough. They are flying through my sewing machine and over the next few months I make a bunch of money.

        Instead of the lousy Christmas we were expecting, we have a great Christmas with lots of presents and goodies and cozy, warm feelings all around. Except for one thing. I am never able to get my hands on an actual Cabbage Patch Kid for my daughter in time for Christmas. The one and only thing she asked for was impossible to get. She has all the Cabbage Patch Kid's clothes in the world but no actual Kid. She takes it like a champ but I can see her disappointment. After Christmas the hysteria dies down a little (not a lot, just a little) and I manage to get one for my daughter's birthday in January. The Cabbage Patch craze continues for the next year and more, and I continue to take advantage of it by making and selling my creations. I make thousands of dollars this way until the madness runs its course and to this day I am still pleased and proud of how I was able to take advantage of that situation. Still, I would give that up in a heart beat if I could just go back and find a way to have my daughter's fondest wish under the tree that year. I know that disappointment is a big part of life, but that would have been sublime.


Monday, October 13, 2014

Back To The Trees?

 Who, in their right mind, would teach a baby to walk on a table like this???

        It is incredible how quickly babies get good at walking once that initial threshold is passed. Kiley is now walking everywhere, holding onto furniture most of the time (known as "cruising") but routinely making long journeys from one piece of furniture to another like Magellan island-hopping around the world. She has basically given up on crawling altogether except in emergencies (for instance when "Uncle Tom" starts chasing her, threatening to "get her belly", she still sometimes reverts to quadrupedal locomotion to make her escape) but other than that she's two-footing it all the way, toddling around like a "Weeble". Remember "Weebles"? They wobble but they don't fall down? Okay, that's not exactly accurate because she does a lot of falling down, but still, it's amazing that she stays on her feet at all considering her method of walking. She has that toddler strut where she doesn't swing her arms to maintain balance as she steps forward but rather her whole body leans from side to side to compensate for the change from one foot to the next. We call it toddling but teetering is a more accurate description.

So Kiley is just about in full walking mode which causes her old Nan no end of worry. The unskilled walker, both old and young, tends to fall down a lot and, though the old are more likely to sustain serious injury from such an occurrence, the young are not indestructible by any means. It's the head I'm worried about most of all. When Kiley does happen to fall (about a thousand times a day) it isn't a great distance to the ground so the only real danger is hitting her head on the way down. All of the furniture corners in her range of freedom are now appropriately covered with those foam bumpers designed for the purpose and the kitchen table is still well above her head so that bumping it upon standing up is not yet in the equation. That leaves the dreaded wall corners, which, thankfully, are not abundant in the area where she is permitted free range. Unfortunately, that is not the only thing I have to worry about.

It is an unfortunate result of coincidence or perhaps of evolution, that when a baby begins to walk with any skill at all it also begins to climb. What's up with that? Kiley is a consummate climber, to the constant strain on my poor heart. Regardless of which chair, sofa, table, or person she happens to be using for a walking support, she invariably tries to climb onto it. It doesn't matter how high it is, if she's holding onto it, she wants to be on top of it. This includes all of the Family Room furniture, the kitchen table, the kitchen counters, the kitchen chairs, and me. Thankfully, the kitchen furniture is beyond her climbing abilities, at least for the present. Even the seats of the kitchen chairs are at least chin-level to her but that doesn't stop her from trying. The kitchen table is so high it may as well be Mount Kilimanjaro but that only seems to increase her desire to conquer its peak. I don't think I have ever seen her grab onto the leg of the kitchen table without looking up and repeatedly raising her right leg in a vain attempt to figure out how to get up there. My own leg gets the same treatment. It's frustrating and a bit hazardous to go about your daily chores with a baby continuously trying to crawl up your leg, and it's usually when I have my hands full. I am constantly trying to shake her off like an overzealous dog. I have resigned myself to going about my normal business with her hanging from my jeans pocket lake an orangutan. And the stairs! The stairs are like the path to Shangri-La to her. Everything good and magical surely lies at the top of the stairs. She is drawn to the stairs like a teenager to trouble so, of course, I have to keep a baby gate in place at the bottom to keep her safe and myself sane. She stands there at the bottom shaking the bars of the baby gate like a miscreant at Riker's Island and longing for the wonders that, no doubt, dwell beyond her reach.

I'm sure this walking/climbing connection harkens back to the time when we lived in trees or at least climbed into them to escape from predators. But that was then and this is now. The ability to climb is no longer a prerequisite for survival; in fact the opposite is probably true. Falls are the leading cause of injury in the home. Granted, the majority of such injuries are to adults, especially older adults (our poor old bones are so brittle), but that fact doesn't negate the possibility of Kiley hurting herself that way. The two worst injuries to my own children when they were kids, not counting a horrible teenage car accident, were due to falls – one resulting in a stitched lip and the other a broken jaw (there's a scary story behind that one). Still, the fact remains that climbing is a part of Kiley's nature as it is for all babies, and there is nothing to do but cringe and bear it. It will be years before she is agile enough to avoid the most common pitfalls. Until then I'm watching her like a hawk. The strain is aging me beyond my years.


Monday, October 6, 2014


        I'm suffering from writer's block this week. It happens. I have churned out thirty-four blogs about babies and associated subjects in thirty-two weeks and my brain needs a rest. I had thought about posting a bunch of pictures instead of text but I want to save that until Kiley is older and I have enough photos at various ages and stages to highlight the changes that she has undergone over time. So, instead, I have decided to enlist the help of a guest writer for this week's offering. That, however, is easier said than done. Finding someone who is willing to jump in and take a stab at creative writing, then have their efforts posted on the Internet, just so I can kick back for a bit is practically impossible. My only recourse, then, is to impose on someone who owes me. Someone I can wheedle, needle, and coerce into doing my bidding. Someone who encouraged me to start this whole blog thing in the first place (insisting that it would be "easy") and now finds it's time to put his money where his mouth is. Someone who now has to step into the breach if he knows what's good for him. That's right, I'm referring to him, he, that guy, my husband. He doesn't want to do it but he's going to. So for what it's worth, here it is. Give him a hand everyone. Let's hear it for the boy.


All right, you asked for it, so here goes.

        When Nan agreed to do this whole babysitting thing I thought – "You gotta be kidding me". We finally get to the point where the kids are all gone (for good, I hope) and we have time and leisure for ourselves and what does she do? She goes and makes a commitment that's going to tie her up for years to come. That's a typical "Nan" move where babies are concerned. And it's not just a little commitment either, it's a huge commitment, an all day every day commitment. And it's not a half-grown, already broken in, plop her down in front of the TV and call it done kinda kid either. No, it's an "I won't be able to do anything for myself for at least three years" kinda kid. A stinking, crying, getting sick all the time kinda kid. The worst kinda kid. The baby kinda kid. What was she thinking?

        Before we go digging into the mind and motivations of my best girl, (which, believe me, can be both scary and dangerous), let me make one thing perfectly clear. I like babies; they're fine as far as I'm concerned. But the key to liking babies is to take them in small doses. A little bit of baby is good. A whole lot of baby is vexing. That's why grandparents are so fond of their grandchildren; they only have to be exposed to them on a short-term basis. This is a fact recognized and commented on by every grandparent who has ever lived. I don't believe I have ever heard grandparents talk about grandchildren without hearing the comment, "I get to have all the fun with them that I want and then hand them back to their parents", followed by self-satisfied laughter all around. That's because we, as grandparents, have experienced the parent thing. We've done our duty and done our time. It's someone else's turn to pick up the ball and run with it.

A scamp torturing a poor granddad.

        All of that is true, generally speaking, but there is a small subset of grandparents, mostly women, who live and breathe for the kids. They never seem to get enough of them. No matter how old they get or what else is going on in their lives, they never stop being attracted to small, helpless humans like moths to a flame. There is something in their make-up that draws them to the larvae. Maybe they like being constantly interrupted in whatever they are doing. Maybe they enjoy aggravation, botheration, and unreasoning resistance. Maybe they just need to be needed. Whatever the underlying pathology, these Uber Mothers fill their lives with children. They are women who are invariably patient, wise, capable and self-sacrificing. They love children and children love them. They are fairy godmothers without the wand and wings and Nan is their queen.  

        So here we are. Another baby is in our midst. Kiley has come among us. She's a funny little squib and I do mean "little". She's tiny even by baby standards. I think her doctor said she is in the tenth percentile for size, which means small. Her "Betty Davis" eyes are the biggest part of her. I try to stay away from her as much as possible and avoid eye contact because these babies are dangerous things. They're like boils. They have a way of growing on you; especially this one, I can see it. If you let them, they will worm their way into your heart, like cholesterol, and if you're not careful they'll take up permanent residence there. Then, before you know it, you find yourself hanging around them more and more, and thinking about them when they're not around, and looking forward to seeing them, and wishing they were around more often, and bending over backwards to fulfill their every wish and desire. Believe me, I don't need that - not at my age. Nan got herself into this and she can count me out. I'm too old for that crap. I don't want to be a jerk about it so I give her a hand with the baby now and then, but only when absolutely necessary. I'll carry her around for bit when she's "fussy" but that's about as much as I can do, sorry. A quick kiss goodbye out at the car is about as far as I am willing to take it. She laughs when I "get" her belly, which isn't very often because "Uncle Tom" don't roll that way. She thinks "this little piggy went to market" is a regular riot. And she's so flexible. I can grab her feet and tickle her under the chin with them. She seems fascinated by my voice. When I sing to her she stares at me like she's mesmerized or something; it's creepy. Thank God she goes home at the end of the day because I would go nuts. I wonder what she's doing right now.

Uncle Tom