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 –


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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Baby, Baby, Baby

My fourth grandchild, Cosette, is four years old now and into babies. She’s been telling her mother for some time that they should get another baby (“they” in the broadest sense of the word). “God gives the babies,” her mother said. So Cosette prayed for a baby. She prayed until God said, “Okay already, Cosette!” It was a surprise to all of us.

I said, “Great. Now she thinks God will give her anything she asks for.”

So there’s this baby coming, and Cosette calls me regularly with the latest breaking news on the baby-to-be… the baby is 4 inches long, now he’s 5 inches long, now he’s the size of a baked potato. She insists it’s a boy, and given her apparent access to the Unknown, I suspect she’s right.

Cosette has a doll she named Baby Alla (nobody knows why). Baby Alla has every accessory a newborn could need – tiny diapers and wipes, a little plastic bottle, changing table, playard, baby carrier, and a pacifier tied to her wrist with string. She wears one of Toddler Bret’s old onesies for pajamas.

Last week we were playing in Cosette’s room when she had to leave to use the potty. My instructions in her absence were to give Baby Alla a bottle. So I did. I sat on the floor, held the doll and stuck a bottle in its mouth. Cosette looked around the corner. “Talk to her,” she ordered before leaving again. So I did. I sat all alone on the floor, feeding pretend milk to a pretend baby and talking baby talk to it. Lunacy. Baby Alla just laid there of course. That’s all she ever does.

Anyway, come late summer I will have a sixth grandchild. It isn’t something I ever thought about or imagined, and frankly I don’t know if there’s enough of me to go around.

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Pages from Grandma’s Diaries: Cosette, part 2

May 1, 2009
I babysat for one-year-old Cosette last weekend. Spent Saturday night at their house while Mom and Dad went out of town. She’s a pretty easy kid to take care of. A lot of time is used up just tormenting the dog in the name of love. And then we have to practice putting on and taking off our Mardi Gras beads a few hundred times. And we never get sick of watching “Elmo’s Potty Time” (accidents are okay, you know). So I have to say that the time just flew by. By 8:00 she was asleep and so was I.

Cosette’s parents told me that she won’t eat with her right shoe on anymore. I didn’t see how that could be true, but of course it is. You put her in her highchair, and the first thing she does is work her foot out of that right shoe. You give her a snack and off comes the shoe. It makes no sense to me. Why not the left shoe? Why not both? I’d like to ask her, but her vocabulary consists of one-syllable words, none of which is shoe. I don’t imagine anyone will ever figure out the reason for this behavior. It bothers me a little.

Sept. 2, 2009
Cosette left me a phone message today. It was brief (she’s only almost two) but exciting. Because just about everything is exciting to Cosette, and all of her comments end in exclamation points: “Pickle! Jeep! Ursa! Broccoli! W!” So then I started thinking how sad it is that we lose the enthusiasm we had at two. I thought maybe I’d just start walking around the house saying things to myself that end in exclamation points. “I’m out of mayonnaise! I should vacuum under the sofa cushions! I’m going to turn up the heat! I’m sick and tired of putting on makeup every damn day!” (The last one really did need an exclamation point.)

April 7, 2010
Somewhere in the Grand Cosmos I’m sure there’s an answer to winning the lottery, if only we could figure out what it is. I was thinking I might have one of the grandkids pick numbers out of a hat. Kids are closer to the Cosmos; their brains aren’t all cluttered up with old regrets and broken dreams.

Cosette is almost always happy and her little brain is usually working overtime. So the next time she comes over I’m going to have her pick some numbers, if I can get her to quit fishing long enough. I have two plastic fishing poles with magnetic hooks and eight magnetic plastic fish. We fish in the closets and down the stairs. We fish in the bathtub and in the bed covers and behind the sofa. She always catches the blue fish. I always catch the green. No switching. I suspect Cosette knows some things I don’t. It’s worth a try.

June 9, 2010
Gina and Cosette are coming over this weekend while Bret paints the bedroom for the new baby. I’ll be anxious to see what progress Cosette has made with “potty boot camp,” which started on Monday. Potty boot camp consists of taking trips to the potty every 15 minutes. It is Gina’s contention that Cosette, who turns three in September, is more than capable of mastering this skill. Also, Gina is seven months’ pregnant and insists she won’t have two children in diapers at the same time.

Cosette, meanwhile, has chosen to ignore the potty. Maybe it will go away. Diapers, underpants, it’s all the same to her, and potty time is mostly just an interruption in her busy day. So…the irresistible force meets the immovable object. My money’s on Gina. She can be amazingly stubborn and she’s stockpiled a large supply of underpants. Go, Cosette!

Pages from Grandma’s Diaries: Cosette, part 1

Ah, Cosette. Three years old now. Named for the orphan girl in Les Miserables, which her parents attended in their courting days and following which Gina told Bret if they ever got married and ever had a daughter, they were going to name that daughter Cosette. Which must have been something of a surprise to him since he hadn’t thought much about proposing; but being the kind of man who knows when to get with the program, he did eventually propose and marry Gina and they did have a daughter who they named Cosette.

Cosette never stops thinking. Cosette never stops talking. Cosette never stops thinking and talking. “I think, therefore I talk,” that’s her motto. Cosette never stops moving, except when her mother lets her watch TV, which isn’t very often. She never stops trying to get Baby Bret to play with her. He tries. He does his best. But he’s only 10 months old and things still bounce right off him. Quite often she takes things away from him, which he has decided he does not like. She doesn’t care. Cosette likes to call me on the phone and give me reports on what’s going on in her household, including regular updates on how old Baby Bret is NOW. She loves Buzz Lightyear. Sometimes you have to call her “Buzz” or she won’t answer.

Gina and the kids came over last Saturday, so that Man Bret could stain the siding Cosetteless. I have a playroom upstairs. Sometimes the grandkids play there; more often they haul out the toys and deposit them in various inconvenient spots around the house. Cosette came out of the playroom with a 16-inch Frankenstein monster robot. “He’s a big man,” she told me. “He’s a REALLY big man.”

“His name is Frankenstein,” her mother said. “Frank-en-stein.”

“Frankenstein,” said Cosette. But he was “the big man” all day long.

And all day long we were tasked with keeping a watchful eye on him. We went outside to work in the yard and, of course, the big man came along. When Cosette went to look for a shovel, I was in charge of security. “Grandma, you watch the big man,” she said solemnly. I swore my undying devotion to his care and well-being. Once I forgot myself and walked around to the front of the house without him. “Where’s the big man?” Cosette wanted to know. “He’s in the backyard guarding the flower pots,” I said. That was okay then, so long as we knew his whereabouts at all times.

Cosette took the big man’s picture with her mother’s camera. She took pictures of him sitting down and standing up. Then she scrolled through the pictures to show them to me. She knows how to work the camera better than I do.

I thought she would want to take the big man home with her at the end of the day, but she didn’t mention it. So I took him back up to the playroom. The thing is, now I know he’s there. All the time. He’s a big man and he is always there.


Try the Punch, Judy

My granddaughter Cosette celebrated her third birthday last month with a party in their backyard attended by eight kids, two infants and twelve adults. You need extra adults. Like everything else, Cosette has her own ideas about birthdays. She likes the cake and the singing part but has surprisingly little interest in opening presents. There we were, twenty-odd people gathered in common cause, people who had thought long and hard about what a three-year-old who never stops moving might like, had shopped and wrapped and picked just the right greeting card, people waiting to see the expression of joy on her little face when she opened their gifts, and all she wanted to do was hit a plastic ball off a plastic tee. Her father finally put the tee in the garage. It helped a little. Not much.

My assignment for the birthday party was to put on a puppet show. This is an excellent example of the things my children don’t mind asking me to do. I have never expressed any interest whatsoever in puppetry. I am simply available and not likely to refuse. So I went on the Internet to learn about puppet stuff.

There is no shortage of politically correct puppet show scripts online. There is a shortage of funny puppet show scripts online. I finally found an old Punch & Judy script. If you’re old enough to remember Howdy Doody, you probably remember Punch & Judy. They’ve been around for about 300 years and never in that time had a problem with family violence. Besides beating each other with sticks, they (baby)sat on the baby, put the baby in the oven to dry and perpetrated a number of other abuses against the baby. Naturally, I had to take all that stuff out (I also had to change their names, as my daughter didn’t want a puppet named Punch and I didn’t want one named Judy), but it was still a pretty funny script.

Punch & Judy, before puppets were cute, bland and PC

I went shopping for hand puppets. Nothing fancy. One boy, one girl. Apparently puppets are not the hot toy this holiday season, because I couldn’t find one in the seven-county metro area. Back to the Internet. Lots of puppets – dogs, cats, cows, bears, bees, mice. Humans? Not so much. I tried making sock puppets, paper bag puppets, even dish towel puppets. In the end, I ripped the heads off two old dolls in the basement, added some fabric, and voila! Two puppets who couldn’t hold their heads up.

Show time. Puppet theater set up on the grass. Little people lined up in front, big people in back – a group, fortunately, with few or no expectations. And despite several theatrical mishaps, such as props rolling off the stage into the audience, the show received rave reviews. This is what I learned: 1) try to have at least one dress rehearsal, lest the puppets go out there and forget their lines; 2) don’t use anything that’s round or has wheels as a prop; 3) it’s okay if you forget #1 and #2, because the kids don’t care anyway – just make a lot of noise and send enough objects flying through the air and they’ll think it’s hilarious.

As we say in the theater: fini, thank God, fini.