Saturday With Grace


My granddaughter Grace, who just turned seven, came over last Saturday to visit and spend the night. Gracie is sort of quiet and reserved, so it isn’t entirely clear how she ended up in the family. Even when she’s feeling giggly, it’s a subdued kind of giggly. No need to make a spectacle of yourself. There are plenty of others around to do that.

Grace and I did several subdued, tasteful things together. She designed a number of lovely outfits on the computer and printed them out. We played Cootie and she beat me twice, fair and square. She’s a Cootie master. We went out to eat and she found every word in the Wordfind on her placemat. (She’s only going into first grade but already can read words like marshmallow.) We mowed the grass and watered the pots.

I showed Grace my blog and asked her if she would like to write something. She said she would. Here it is.


Oh yes, we also drove to a little nearby lake and walked around, and Grace took lots of pictures, 134 to be exact. Here are some pictures she took of clouds. Because why not.

At the end of the day, Gracie and I blew up the airbed in the living room and watched a movie. And when the movie was over we went to sleep, because we were already in our bed!

Life is hard a fair amount of the time. We get sad and tired and overworked. Sometimes it seems like things will never sort themselves out, and we will never have a happy or restful thought again. Then it is good to have a grandchild like Grace around.

Subscribe to this blog under Email Subscription in the right column.


You Can Call Him Lee


You can call him Lee because that’s his name. He finally arrived, a big, chubby baby who couldn’t make up his mind whether to stay in or come out, sending his mother back and forth to the hospital like a wind-up doll and distressing the entire family for the past two weeks. I personally am exhausted.

As it happened, when the moment came, I ended up driving to the hospital with Cosette, just as she predicted several weeks ago. I don’t know how she knows these things. The neighbor guy came over to sit with Toddler Bret, who was already in bed. I was tired and anxious, of course, trying to find the hospital with a four-year-old who never stops chattering in the backseat. “That’s 36, Grandma, you go that way. That’s 3-5-W. There’s 280, Grandma, take that.” For the love of God, I thought, give me a break, Cosette!

Both siblings were beside themselves with excitement at bringing the baby home. He didn’t care. But then he probably doesn’t know they see him as a big, almost lifelike toy. Cosette has been honing her mothering skills for months.

He’s a good-natured baby, fortunately, and cute as a button. Doesn’t cry much. He’s already survived being poked in the eye by his brother. No tears but it did make him screw up his face. This is good. He should get used to it.

Welcome to the family, baby Lee. We love you very much.

Subscribe to this blog under Email Subscription in the right column.

Pages from Grandma’s Diaries: Bret Jr., Part 2


Toddler Bret had his second birthday this week. I think I can still call him Toddler Bret since he just entered the Twos, as evidenced by the minor meltdown at his birthday party yesterday. “Just leave him alone and he’ll stop,” his sister said. Which proved to be the case after everyone – grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins – studiously avoided looking at him and certainly made no attempt to engage him in speech.

What really brought him around was his mother’s suggestion that he open his gifts a little early. It was an amazing turnaround. His favorite present was a little remote-controlled dog from his 93-year-old great-grandma. It didn’t matter how many times the dog walked off the end of the coffee table, he found it hilarious every time.

He liked everything else after that… the Happy Birthday song and the cake and the candles, which he blew out all by himself because he’s a big boy now. Soon he will be a big brother to someone. We’ll see how that goes. Meanwhile, here’s a few thoughts from the last two years.

December 31, 2009
The most exciting news I got over the holidays is that grandchild No. 5 is on the way. Gina and Bret like to surprise me with this kind of thing. When she was pregnant with Cosette, they gave me a bunch of photos to look at, including one of the dog next to a sign that said, “I’m going to be a big sister.” I thought they were getting another dog, which seemed odd, but not for them.

You’d think they’d learn to give it to me straight, but no. This time they gave me a jar of spaghetti sauce for Christmas. I thought maybe it was homemade. It wasn’t. Then I thought, “What a stupid gift.” Finally, someone yelled, “She’s prego!” There are no Hallmark moments in our family.

September 8, 2010
I babysat for Cosette and Baby Bret Sunday night while their parents went to Stillwater for a good night’s rest. It’s hard to make it through the night at their house, mainly because Baby Bret has some baby reflux thing going on, which is seldom bad enough to wake him up but enough so he complains in his sleep.

The complaints are hard to describe, but they’re enough to set off the super-sensitive baby monitor sitting on the nightstand next to your head. As a result, you’re in his room roughly every half-hour, because maybe he really is awake and needs something. You never know and you never will until you get up and check. I sort of gave up on sleeping after a while, which is why I was washing dishes at 3:30 in the morning.

December 30, 2010
I watched Cosette and Baby Bret last night. He’s a pretty easygoing baby, especially if you carry him around without stopping. I guess he’s hungry a lot, because I’ve never known a baby so determined to suck your face. Which is hard to avoid when you are, as I say, carrying him around nonstop. As soon as his little face gets next to yours, he’s sucking your cheek or your chin or your eye socket. It feels weird. It is weird.

Also, he never stops talking. I call it talking because I don’t know what it is. It’s loud and comes from down in his throat somewhere. Along with Cosette’s never-ending dialogue, it’s noisy at their house. I would be very surprised if that changed in the new year.

January 28, 2011
I’m babysitting for six-month-old Baby Bret tonight while the rest of the family goes ice skating. Haven’t seen him for a while, but I imagine he’s as chubby as ever, and since he obviously can’t propel himself anywhere, I’ll have to lug him around. It isn’t going to help my back, which is still achy from last Saturday night when I slept with ten-year-old Maria, who will sleep smack dab in the middle of the mattress and good luck trying to move her.

He’s a cheerful little guy though, Baby Bret that is, as long as you keep him fed. Which I do whether it’s feeding time or not. My job, I believe, is to keep them happy by whatever means necessary and let their parents deal with it later. It is free babysitting after all, by someone who really loves your kid and doesn’t care what time you come home. Not surprisingly, parents find this very appealing. I figure they can deal with a kid who’s a little off his schedule.

Subscribe to this blog under Email Subscription in the right column.

Pages from Grandma’s Diaries: Bret Jr., Part 1

All kinds of things change when you’re the fifth grandchild. For one thing, Grandma doesn’t have as many pictures of you to pick from when she needs one. For another, you have to be more assertive than numbers 1 to 4 to get any attention at all. Luckily, this is not a problem for Toddler Bret.

I call him Toddler Bret because he’ll be two in July and I can’t call him Baby Bret anymore. His sister said so. As I believe I mentioned, when his parents chose to make him a Junior, they failed to come up with a nickname, leaving everyone to muck along with two Brets in the family. I’m starting to wonder what Toddler Bret makes of it himself. Conversation at the dinner table, for instance.

“How was your day, Bret?”
“Bret, eat your apples.”
“Would you pass the mashed potatoes, Bret?”
“Bret, do you want more milk?”
“Ursa really needs a bath, Bret.”
“Bret, no feeding Ursa from the table.”

I picture him throwing up his little hands in despair. “What in the name of Fisher-Price does the woman want of me??”

Or maybe not. His days are full. He’s like a little locomotive, legs pumping, running here, running there. He has wants. He has needs. He has a lot to think about: “What’s going on? Wait for me, Cosette! I want to do that. Run, run, run! Where’s Ursa? Get the ball, Ursa! Where’s Mom? It’s time to jump off something! I can dance like the Wiggles. Mom, I need a hug. I want to go outside now. Where’s Cosette? What’s Cosette doing? I can do that!”

And that’s pretty much how it goes, all day long. His sister is commander in chief, i.e., whatever she does, he does. WHATEVER she does. Cosette jumps off the bed, Bret jumps off the bed. Cosette sticks out her tongue, Bret sticks out his tongue. Cosette marches down the driveway carrying a stick, Bret marches down the driveway carrying a stick. Cosette picks a flower and throws it in the bushes, Bret picks a flower and throws it in the bushes. Well, you get the picture.

Cosette likes to call me on the phone and let me know what’s going on at their house. Lately she’s been putting me on the speakerphone, because Toddler Bret has things he wants to say too. Well, yell. “Ball! Dog! Ma! Down!” God knows what he’s saying. It doesn’t matter, he just wants to be acknowledged.

Of course, very soon now he won’t be the youngest grandchild anymore, but number 5 of 6. It’s hard to say how that’s going to go over. As I said, he has wants, he has needs. On the other hand, he could end up commander in chief.

Subscribe to this blog under Email Subscription in the right column.

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.

Subscribe to this blog under Email Subscription in the right column.

Shopping With Maria

It’s been a long time since I went shopping with a preteen girl. I tried it yesterday and remembered why God created menopause; i.e., ten or twelve years after giving birth, you have to take them shopping. This requires more fortitude than you’re likely to have.

Maria and I hadn’t spent any quality time together for a while, so she came over in the afternoon and stayed the night. We had pedicures and she had a manicure (tiny white flowers on every pink nail), got something to eat and went to Target to get her a new outfit. We started in the Girls’ department, but as she’s several inches taller than me now, ended up in Juniors.

Needless to say, the things she was pulling off the racks bore little resemblance to anything I had in mind. We headed to the fitting room with armloads of clothes; then it was just me running back and forth like a mad gopher. This went on for about two hours.

Maria liked everything she tried on no matter how inappropriate. She was particularly smitten with a little black and white striped number that looked like something out of Sweet Charity. Didn’t keep count, but I believe I said “Your mother will kill me if I buy you that” around fifty times. It isn’t easy getting through to an eleven-year-old girl. It’s like the words float out over their heads somewhere and only reach their ears on an intermittent basis.

She was sweet about it though. The pleading was minimal and she never broke into tears. I’m not her mother, after all. Eventually we compromised on a pair of navy blue leggings, a sheer, flowered tunic and a tank top to go underneath. Middle ground to be sure, and she still could pass for fifteen in it.


Dear God: This is Judy. Thank you for menopause.

Subscribe to this blog under Email Subscription in the right column.

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.


Pages from Grandma’s Diaries: Grace, part 2

March 11, 2009
I babysat for the grandkids on Saturday. As usual, I spent a lot of the time trying to figure out what’s going on in their little minds. Grace is three and can talk perfectly well, but sometimes she won’t. She gets upset and stands there with her chin down and her lip out, mute as a stone. “What’s the matter, Gracie? Tell Grandma, honey. Tell Grandma what’s wrong. What’s wrong, Gracie? Grace…speak!” Hopeless. I have to get Maria to interpret: “She wants applesauce.” Really? How did you know that? And why is it a secret?

Then there are the little unsolved, probably unsolvable, mysteries that come up after they’ve gone. Why are the paints in the refrigerator? Where is the lint brush? Why would one of you want the lint brush? Did you suddenly become tidy? And so it goes. You can ponder till you’re blue, it won’t make any difference. One day the lint brush will turn up, and that will be that.

Sept. 1, 2010
So I babysat last Friday night and ended up nonplussed yet again. I was having a conversation with five-year-old Grace for about ten minutes, at the end of which she spit out a penny, just as if she always keeps one tucked under her tongue for emergencies, a last-minute gumball purchase or something. It shook me a little, as she seemed to be talking okay before that. I thought it must be an act of whimsy, but when I mentioned it to her mother, Jill said, “I told her not to do that. Grace! Don’t put pennies in your mouth. You’re going to choke.” What are they thinking? That’s all I want to know. What the heck are they thinking?

Pages from Grandma’s Diaries: Grace, part 1


Went to hear my five-year-old granddaughter Grace sing last Sunday afternoon. She takes lessons at a small music school in St. Paul that’s funded in part by the state. You aren’t likely to find a future Isaac Perlman or Beverly Sills there (although you never know), just a lot of earnest-looking kids who want to sing or play the piano or tenor sax or trumpet or clarinet or violin or acoustic guitar. They don’t have a big auditorium and don’t need one. The recital was in a large room with the stage one step up. There was a program but they didn’t seem to follow it very closely; I think if the kid looked ready, they just sent him up.

Gracie has a soft little voice but sings rather loud, and when she looks into the future, I’m pretty sure she sees a star. She had to introduce herself and say the name of her song, “Lullaby of Broadway,” which she sang with hand motions and great composure, until about the last minute. Then she wasn’t smiling anymore, and you could see the tears sliding down her cheeks, although her voice only wavered a little bit. She finished the song and jumped into the arms of her mother (who by that time had stood up from her chair in the first row), and buried her face in mom’s neck.

And because Grace is the youngest student in the school, and because she was adorable in her hot pink leggings and hot pink shoes, and most of all because she was brave, of course the audience erupted when she finished. At which point the emcee had to stop and get me a tissue, and then offer a tissue to anyone else who might need one (no one did), before moving on to a boy tackling Handel’s “Sarabande” on the piano (or maybe it was the clarinet, I sort of lost focus).

I guess you’d say it was one of those moments. Never in my life will I get out of my head the image of Gracie’s face, singing away with a tear about to drop off her chin.