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