Thomas the Tank Engine Meets the NFL

Confirmation Day 2022

Ah, yes, Cosette. If you’ve met her, you are probably already shaking your head knowingly. She is my fourth grandchild and you might say she defies description, although I can give you an early example. On the night her brother Lee was born, I was driving to the hospital with her in tow. It was 10 o’clock at night; I was tired and anxious, driving in an unfamiliar area, and I had a 4-year-old child giving me directions from the back seat: “That’s 36, Grandma, you go that way. That’s 3-5-W, take that.” For the love of God, I thought, give me a break, Cosette!

She is turning 15 this month, hard as that is for me to accept, and as usual her birthday list is laser-focused on her current obsession – in this case, the National Football League. I don’t know exactly when this infatuation began, three or four years ago I’d guess, but at this point she is literally a compendium of teams, players, coaches and statistics. Ask her anything. She scours the sports news daily.

Of the 19 items on Cosette’s list this year, 13 are related to professional football: individual player cards, blaster boxes of collector cards, posters, bed linens, and a Minnesota Vikings “NFL Flash Alternative Collectible Football Helmet” that I refuse to peddle out $34.95 for.

Highly desirable collectible helmet that Cosette will treasure forever if you will just shell out $34.95..

This is not new or unusual behavior, of course, because Cosette approaches every undertaking as if it were the Last Crusade and she was Indiana Jones. This latest birthday list-making is in fact much like her fixation with all things Thomas the Tank Engine that preceded her fifth birthday.

He has many, many friends.

From June to September 2012 I got phone calls from Cosette at work almost daily reminding me of her pressing need for more Thomas & Friends engines, available in Aisle 2 at Target and if I wanted she would give me directions to the store. The list was endless: Gordon, Henry, Rocky, James, Emily, Toby, Percy, Annie and Clarabel, Cranky the Crane, Donald and Douglas… “Have you got your pen, Grandma? I’ll wait.” Eventually, of course, I found myself in Aisle 2, tossing tiny locomotives into a cart with abandon.

In her jaunty engineer’s cap and red bandana, Cosette mentally tallies the latest additions to
her Thomas & Friends collection.

Well, I figured that would hold her for a while, right? She phoned me at work on Monday. Toddler Bret hadn’t given her a present yet, she said, so maybe I should take him to Target, as she was missing Cranky the Crane. I told her I’d think about it. She called me on Tuesday. Christmas was coming and she wanted to let me know she didn’t have Cranky, Spencer, Elizabeth, the Troublesome Trucks, Bertie the Bus, Bash and Dash, Harold and… “Are you writing this down, Grandma?”
For the love of God, I thought, give me a break, Cosette!

Simply wonderful

The Chickens, the Coyote and the Hole in the Roof


I got caught on the phone yesterday with seven-year-old Cosette. I called to see how her mother was feeling, as she had been sick for a few days, but I never did get to speak to her. Once Cosette answers, talking to anyone else in the house is not an option. You can either settle in for the duration or hang up (assuming you have an excuse she’ll accept) and try again later when she may be otherwise occupied, perhaps in telling her brothers what’s what. I had some time to kill, so I let her carry on.


Lately Cosette has been concentrating her efforts on getting some chickens to raise in the backyard, so as to provide the family with fresh eggs daily and fried chicken on an occasional basis. Her father, who grew up in the country, and her mother, who is severely ornithophobic but a real trooper, are indulging her in this pursuit, despite the fact that they live in a crowded St. Paul suburb where you’d think there’d be better zoning restrictions.

I have to say Cosette knows more about the habits of chickens and the perils of owning them than I have gleaned in a lifetime. Her father will construct a chicken coop this fall, she says, with the goal of purchasing about ten baby chicks next spring. However, the instructions for building it are woefully lacking, so he has some research to do.

The chicks will have to stay in the basement until they are old enough to face the elements. Her mother is not pleased with this arrangement, but Cosette assures me that Mom won’t have to do a thing as she and five-year-old Bret Jr. will take care of all the chicks’ needs. This includes going into the basement every hour and squeezing them so that they don’t get pasty butt.

I had never heard of pasty butt, but I’ve since learned it is a very real affliction wherein poop dries around the chick’s “vent area” creating a seal that fresh poop cannot breach. The cure, according to Cosette, is to squeeze the chick until the poop comes out. Now I have not attempted to assay the validity of this claim. God help the innocent, that’s all I can say.

Assuming the chicks make it through this ordeal, when they are four or five weeks old they will be moved outdoors. This doesn’t mean they’re out of the woods, however, as Cosette has learned a coyote was recently spotted in the neighborhood. Said coyote has, in fact, killed all the neighbor’s chickens. (Yes, it is a neighborhood already rife with chickens.) As there was no roof on their pen, the coyote was able to jump in and then…hen havoc. The neighbors had to buy more chickens.

Okay, this next part is a little shifty, but I’m going to tell it just as it was told to me. I asked Cosette if she wasn’t worried about Ursa, their beleaguered dog, with a coyote running around. She said she has a plan for that.  She is going to dig a hole in the backyard with a ramp that runs through the house and up to another hole in the roof. Then, aided by a “machine” she has yet to build, she will “launch” either Ursa or the coyote (this part was a little vague) into the ramp and out the hole in the roof, to what end I’m not sure.

Frankly, I think she was just adlibbing by this point. If you don’t cut her off, she will continue embellishing with information only she can comprehend. I said I had to go start dinner. Cosette said, okay, but to call her back, as there is a lot I don’t know and she needs to bring me up to speed. I can hardly wait.


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Photo credits:
chickens – (stock.xchng )
coyote sign –


In Grace Land


My granddaughter Grace turned ten last week. I think she’s happy about it. She isn’t one to call attention to herself by jumping up and down screaming, “Double digits! Double digits!” or anything. Actually, it’s hard to believe that Grace is descended from a long line of loud, opinionated women.

She spent the night at my house a few days ago. We were sitting on the sofa, Gracie watching a movie and playing a game on my Kindle while I read a book and felt guilty. Just as I was thinking we should be doing something more stimulating, she said, “This is nice.” Wait, what? Grace is good with this? Yes! Grace is having a good time!

She is still an avid shutterbug. I can’t tell you how many pictures I have on my smartphone of Grace’s eyeballs and the inside of her mouth, to say nothing of the random strangers she shoots out the car window while I’m driving. “Who the hell is this?” I wonder later, scrolling through shots of sweaty runners and dog-walkers and, oh look, here’s another picture of Grace’s feet. While I remain technologically impaired, she manipulates the bells and whistles on my phone with ease. I think this amuses her, although she is too polite to say so.

Gracie has started playing volleyball and softball, which she seems to like and have an aptitude for. Needless to say, she never complains about the officiating. She still likes to paint and draw. Here’s a picture of me bearing an uncanny resemblance to Mrs. Incredible.


In honor of Grace reaching the decade mark, I rummaged through some things I wrote several years ago but never posted. This is from Feb. 10, 2010, when she was four:

“I helped daughter Jill paint her bathroom on Saturday. It’s a small bathroom that should have taken about two hours to paint but ended up taking five, what with the unplanned trips to Home Depot and the three observers aged four, five and nine lined up outside the bathroom door on two kiddy chairs and one overturned bucket (Christian still in his pajamas and Grace in her tutu and flowered coronet), arguing that they were too old enough to paint. Not that they thought their mother would cave, but I might be co-opted to use my influence on their behalf.  I didn’t crack though. I was firm. I told them they could paint when they come to my house. I have a lot of leftover cans of paint in the basement, so I figure I can just let them have at the concrete blocks, and how bad could it be?”

Well, I never did let them loose in the basement. I’m indulgent, but I’m not a fool.

Ah, Gracie Girl. How did you get to be ten so soon? When did you stop wearing tutus and put on a baseball cap? And when another ten years have passed, will you still sit with me on the sofa and say, “This is nice, Grandma”?



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On Three


My youngest grandchild, Lee, turned three this week. He’s a funny little kid. He keeps his own counsel, although he is always clear about what he wants. This is him three years ago, the youngest of six grandkids and resigned to his fate, as it were…

lee in carseat

Nothing has changed much. He’s not overly demanding (for three), but he will not be deterred. At the moment he wants Juicy Fruit gum. That is my sole role and purpose in life, as far as he is concerned: purveyor of Juicy Fruit gum. It doesn’t matter if I say I don’t have any gum, I forgot the gum, sorry. Five minutes later he is back, wanting gum. It isn’t that I don’t want him to have gum, it’s that invariably he does one of two things. The first is to swallow it.

Lee: Grandma, can I have gum?
Me: I just gave you gum. What happened to it? Did you swallow it?
Lee: No.
Me: Where is it?
(He points to his tummy.)
Me: It’s in your tummy?
Lee: Yes.
Me: No, no, you have to spit it out when you’re finished! Just chew it and spit it out. Don’t swallow it, okay?
Lee: Okay.

I give him another stick of gum. He doesn’t swallow it. This is the second thing he does: after two minutes he spits it out. Then he wants more gum. It’s like playing Juicy Fruit Monopoly. Pass Go, Collect Gum. I can only hope that at some point I will be bankrupt.

He is a smart kid, but sometimes he still has trouble telling truth from not-truth…

Gina: Lee, wash your hands for supper.
Lee: Did.
Gina: No, I don’t think so. Go wash your hands for supper.
Lee: Did.
Gina: Lee, if you don’t wash your hands, no pudding cup for dessert.
Lee: Okay. (He leaves for the bathroom.)

This works because her children know Mom means what she says. She doesn’t raise her voice or repeat herself. You simply will not get a pudding cup, no way, no how. This is starkly different from their interactions with me. He doesn’t believe me when I say I have no gum, and there is precedent for that.

Lee: Grandma, do you have gum?
Me: Oh, I forgot to bring gum! I’m so sorry.
Lee: Grandma, can I have gum?
Me: No, no gum right now.
Lee: Can I have gum?
Me: After dinner you can have gum.
Lee: Can I have gum?
Me: Okay.

Sometimes he wants a Tootsie Roll Pop instead of gum. There is no point in describing what that conversation is like. You have already heard the gum story.

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Because He’s Five, That’s Why


My grandson Bret Jr. turned five yesterday. He marked the occasion by giving himself a Minion haircut (see photo), in preparation for his Minion-themed birthday party. And because, he says, it looks cool. Well, you can see the amazing resemblance…


Come to think of it, my own children were about five when they decided to try their hand at cosmetology, although I don’t recall that they started at the top of their heads, so maybe that’s a boy thing.

He got a fair share of Minion-related birthday presents, of course, and one friend gave him a book on raising chickens, along with a plastic chicken feeder and watering dish. He and his sister are desperate to raise chickens in their backyard. Well, mostly his sister, but he is one of her biggest supporters. You might think they live out on a country road somewhere, but they actually live in a heavily populated suburb of St. Paul. Nevertheless, their father is going to check with the city to see how many chickens they can have, while their mother, who suffers from severe ornithophobia, says she is willing to fry up the eggs. Because that’s how they are. This simply means that I will have to spend a portion of every visit outside looking at the chickens and exclaiming over the chickens and trying to avoid being pecked.

Anyway, Bret. A happy, smart, funny little boy who still assumes his seven-year-old sister knows more than I do about most things but doesn’t follow her around as blindly as he did two or three years ago. He is into action heroes, which is why I’ve had a little 5-inch man lying on the box next to my back door for a couple of months with instructions not to let anyone move him. I don’t.


Yes, birthday season is upon us. I have two more grandkid birthdays coming up in about a week. It wears me out some, but it is seldom boring.


Fifteen and Counting


My oldest granddaughter, Maria, turned 15 today. I know. How is such a thing even possible? The very word, grandCHILD, proclaims the absurdity of it.

To mark this unprecedented event, the almost-a-woman had a slumber party at my house last night, as people that age are wont to do, simply because I have a big empty bedroom and almost limitless tolerance. Her brother had a sleepover here about a week ago. You might think five 10- and 11-year-od boys unparalleled in their ability to create mayhem, but I’d have to say, for sheer volume and exuberance, six teenage girls put five preteen boys to shame.



The girls played some crazy games they made up and listened to music I never heard before. About the time they started concocting things in the kitchen with giant marshmallows and Hershey bars, I went to bed. There are times when it’s a kind of blessing to be semi-deaf. I slept quite soundly until 7 am, unlike Maria’s mother, who needed a good nap today.

When I think of my own teenage slumber parties, I recall a rather controlled group of almost-women, although I realize now that can’t possibly have been the case. It seems to me there was a lot of hair-arranging and angst involved. Someone’s bra may have ended up in the freezer, but other than that, no 1960s mother would have let us near the family kitchen.


Anyway, it seems appropriate at this time to drag out one of my favorite Maria stories…

“One day when the family was over, I didn’t think much of it when I saw 8-year-old Maria cutting up a grapefruit in the kitchen. After everyone left, I sat down to read for awhile, then headed for bed. I went upstairs, turned on the bedroom light, and saw a chunk of pink grapefruit stuck on the wall with a hat pin. Which probably wouldn’t have been a big deal except that I had just been reading The Killing Floor by Lee Child, which is exactly what it sounds like, and at first glance the piece of grapefruit looked remarkably like a piece of human flesh to me and it took about ten minutes for the hysteria to subside. I ask you, what would possess a child to pin grapefruit to her grandmother’s bedroom wall? Truly, it is troubling to me.”

I love that story. And surprisingly, Maria has not turned into someone who can’t be trusted with sharp objects. She is in fact a sweet, soft-spoken, thoughtful young woman. This is a good thing, so now I will just shut up about it.




My grandson Christian turned 11 today. It seems like only yesterday he was a toddler throwing the butter dish out the kitchen door. Ah, good times.

I never had any sons or brothers, so my grandsons are a continuing source of wonder and amusement for me: “Look at that! Boys do that. They’re just so different, aren’t they?” And as Christian is the oldest, I tend to scrutinize his behavior, sort of like a marine biologist observing a fascinating new species of plankton.

I don’t know if he is representative of all 11-year-old boys, but I suspect he isn’t far off the mark. I know it isn’t cool to wear a superhero T-shirt when you’re 11. I know it’s possible to put a 1,000-pc. Lego set together in under a day – don’t ask me how, but it is. And I know black is the preferred color for backpacks. He likes to play baseball and basketball because he’s good at it. I hope he never wants to play football because then I’d have to pretend to be happy.

Our conversation at his birthday party yesterday went like this:

“Christian, what’s it like turning eleven?”
“It’s okay.”
“How was camp?” (Because he was away at camp last week.)
“How’s baseball going?”

We can go on like this for hours.

The butter dish episode is buried in the archives here somewhere. Long story short, while their parents were in the process of moving one day, I babysat 11-month-old Grace and little Christian, who had just turned two and was pretty much fed up with the whole relocation thing and basically just wanted his mother and got mad and threw the butter and the plastic butter dish out the kitchen door, although it landed right-side up, so no harm done. Come to think of it, that may have been the same year he broke my nose in a bizarre swing set incident. Oh, I don’t know, the good times all blend together after a while.

But mostly I want to say that he has grown into an amazingly kindhearted and thoughtful kid. He will let his two little boy cousins beat on him endlessly and never tell them to knock it off. He knows right from wrong and puts up with all sorts of adult craziness. He tolerates it when I kiss him (on the forehead). However, he stubbornly refuses to stop being allergic to half the food groups on the FDA pyramid. Maybe when he hits high school.


The Fourth Star on the Left


I added a star to the tattoo on my ankle yesterday in honor of my sixth grandchild, Lee, now 9 months old and definitely star-worthy. It was a little hard finding exactly the right position for star #6 and then it ended up slightly bigger than I expected, which is the kind of thing that happens to me, but nevertheless I’ll be taking my six-star ankle to the grave, unless of course a seventh star comes along, but what the heck, let’s just put the whole damn galaxy on grandma’s foot.

Today five-year-old Cosette called several times saying we needed to go to Target right away so she could show me what to buy for her birthday, just around the corner next September. I felt guilty saying no until she said, okay then, she had to call Auntie Jessica, goodbye. Her brother Toddler Bret calls me regularly as well. For some reason he always seems agitated on the phone. He left me a happy birthday message recently that sounded like he was being attacked by pirates.

On Thursday I drove for an hour through snow and sleet to watch Christian’s wrestling match only to find it was cancelled due to the weather. (It’s almost May, for cripe’s sake.) Now eight, he just started wrestling and takes it very seriously. He came out of his first practice and told his mother, “I can’t show you any moves, Mom, because I might hurt you.”

A few Saturdays ago, 12-year-old Maria came over to get help building a model of the Eiffel Tower for a school project. I have never built the Eiffel Tower before, but apparently my expertise in this area is legendary. We made it out of shoeboxes, of which I have an ample supply. Well, not really out of the shoeboxes but from hundreds of little pieces cut out, glued together and sprayed heavily with black paint. I figured the Eiffel Tower was easier to build than some other famous structures I can think of. Her friend Madeleine chose the Colosseum in Rome, which her father helped her build out of a laundry basket and I’ll bet that was no picnic.

Which brings us to seven-year-old Grace. The last time she was at my house, she watched me applying face makeup with endless questions about what different products were designed to do. I explained, for example, that due to some unfortunate over-tweezing in my youth, I have to pretty much draw on eyebrows now, and that should be a lesson to her not to go around mindlessly plucking at things, and anyway her eyebrows are perfect so it shouldn’t even be an issue. Always take advantage of these little moments to teach, that’s what I say.


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I’ll Meet You at the Station


Thank God, Cosette’s birthday finally arrived. She turned five last week. For the last three months, I’ve received almost daily phone calls reminding me of her pressing need for more Thomas the Train engines, available in Aisle 2 at Target and if I wanted she would give me directions to the store.

The list was endless. Gordon, Henry, Rocky, James, Emily, Toby, Percy, Annie and Clarabel, Cranky the Crane, Donald and Douglas… “Have you got your pen, Grandma? I’ll wait.”

Of course, her birthday was all about Thomas. The cake, the plates, the decorations, the games. Somehow she ended up inviting every single child in her preschool. I think about 22 showed up; counting the tag-along siblings and cousins, there must have been over 30 kids. They all got little engineer hats and bandanas and, in an effort to maintain order, were divided into groups in the backyard and chugged from “station” to “station” by energetic helpers.

I was assigned to the face-painting station. I don’t ask for these jobs. They just turn up, along with the necessary tools and false encouragement. The boys all chose pictures of snakes and Spider-Man; the girls went for balloons, flowers and Hello Kitty. Unfortunately, the paints were more like crayons, which worked fine when they were sharp but quickly wore down and/or broke, so by the end, the snake was mostly just a green squiggle and Hello Kitty a white blob with a pink bow. They’re preschoolers. They didn’t care.

As for the other grandkids…
Toddler Bret bumped his head that morning and refused to get out of the armchair until he had received an acceptable amount of sympathy. He wouldn’t wear a hat or a bandana and had to adjust to the fact that, yes, there were a lot of presents and none of them were for him. He isn’t all that flexible.

Baby Lee didn’t get a hat or a bandana and slept through almost everything.

Christian helped the “little kids” at the makeshift obstacle course. He has turned into a sensitive, kind, helpful boy and I have no idea when it happened. His friend Gus was at the party too. I figured Gus was somebody’s big brother, but there’s no way to keep this stuff straight.

Grace was my assistant at the face-painting table, where she held the colors and the mirror and offered general instruction and encouragement to the clients.

Maria took a nap. She went to a football game the night before, followed by an all-night lock-in party at school marked by the usual controlled mayhem and little sleep. So now we’ve come to that.

We had a family birthday party after all the tots left, with more food, more cake, more presents. So basically just a full day of fun. I drove home and fell in bed about eight o’clock.

You’d think Cosette would have had enough locomotion for a while. She phoned me on Monday. Toddler Bret hadn’t given her a present yet, she said, so maybe I should take him to Target, as she was missing Cranky the Crane. I told her I’d think about it. She called me on Tuesday. Christmas is coming and she wanted to let me know: she doesn’t have Cranky, Spencer, Elizabeth, the Troublesome Trucks, Bertie the Bus, Bash and Dash, Harold and… “Are you writing this down, Grandma?”


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Keep the Faith, Baby

We baptized Baby Lee last Sunday. By we I mean one Lutheran minister and the religious consortium that is now my family, including Lutherans, Pentecostals, Episcopalians, a Baptist, a Humanist, a few Jewish friends who showed up and one resigned Catholic.

Baby Lee didn’t care. I don’t believe I’ve ever seen an infant so unflappable. Through the pre-baptism photo session, the long church service and the even longer luncheon that followed, he never made a complaint. He was passed around, bounced, kissed and had children stick their noses in his face. I think he flinched once. Obviously the child knows already: This is my family. Resistance is futile.

We gathered at my house after the baptism for lunch. It was no less chaotic than usual, what with the five grandkids and two little friends running around, up the stairs, down the stairs, indoors and out. At one point I saw Toddler Bret, who is normally restricted to a sippy cup, walking across the porch with a glass of pink lemonade. It was a plastic glass. I turned and walked away.

And God said, “Truly I say unto you: it’s all good.”


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