The Fourth Star on the Left

LEE'S A STAR
LEE’S A STAR

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.

NEW STAR JUST SOUTH OF BIG TOE
NEW STAR JUST SOUTH OF BIG TOE

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Little Guys

BOYS BEING BOYLIKE
BOYS BEING BOYLIKE

I never had any sons. Never missed it. Had three daughters and was glad of it. Now here I am with these grandsons, and it’s interesting. It isn’t really what I expected at all.

Looking back, I suppose I thought of little boys as just small men. And being just miniature men, I assumed, they must be somewhat oblivious. Unaware. Insensitive. Less drama, you see. This is not the case, I know that now.

For example, when Christian was about five, he got a sliver in his foot at my house and his mother had to use a needle to take it out. Try to take it out, that is, since death by sliver was imminent. It took a long time and everyone involved was an emotional wreck when it was over. And then there was the time Toddler Bret bumped his head at his sister’s birthday party, climbed into an armchair, and refused to budge until a decent level of attention had been payed. So there’s another tragedian in the family.

Baby Lee, on the other hand, looks to be a typically placid male. I babysat over there last weekend, and one of the instructions was: when you take the dog out, be sure to put Lee in his bouncer, because if you leave him on the floor the other kids will roll him. This is the kind of thing up with which he will put. He lies on the living room floor like a rock, people and dogs stepping over him with impunity on their way to somewhere else, and doesn’t flinch.

Of course, boys can be more aggressive than girls. Christian exhibited a fondness for sticks before he could walk. Sticks, stick-like objects, anything really with the appearance of a weapon. And then it seems all males are born with the wrestling gene. Little boys wrestle little boys, big boys wrestle big boys, little boys wrestle big boys, men wrestle little boys, big boys and anyone else willing to roll around on the floor. What is that about? Wrestling makes me nervous.

Finally, it is commonly held that girls are more verbal than boys. Yet it seems to me that every one of my three grandsons started jabbering away as soon as they discovered their vocal chords. Not that you could understand what they were saying, but why would that deter them. Even Baby Lee is turning into a blabber, although I put that down to the influence of a sister who talks from sunrise to sunset and a brother who talks almost as much lest he go unnoticed. It’s noisy at their house, that’s all I’m saying.

So what have we learned? We have learned that boys are different and complex. Toddler Bret is apt to chuck objects across the room (train cars, food) without regard for human welfare. And in the middle of the night he only wants his mother. Christian finds it amusing to throw ear-splitting fake grenades on the floor two feet from his unsuspecting grandmother. And then he tells me he’s sorry he drooled on the pillow in his sleep because it means I have to wash the pillowcase. Baby Lee will play by himself on the floor uncomplaining. And when you pick him up he smiles and smiles, happy to be noticed.

But mostly I have learned this: there is a sweetness in little boys that is so touching you almost can’t bear it. It can put a knot in your stomach and a lump in your throat. It can surely break your heart.

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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.”

AND THEN THERE WERE SIX.

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You Can Call Him Lee

3 DAYS OLD AND RESIGNED TO BEING OUT

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.

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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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