All Together Now…

So, long time no post. I feel guilty. I do. It wouldn’t bother me except that I’m supposed to be chronicling my grandchildren’s formative years. If I don’t do it, who will? Nobody, that’s who.

It’s January, so obviously I didn’t get around to reporting on the annual school Christmas programs in a timely manner. I have five grandkids attending that grade school now. You’d think there’d be a prize or something, but so far zip.

Bret Jr. Is Enthusiastic

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Boy Bret performed admirably in the preschool Christmas program. He sang when he was supposed to sing, sat when he was supposed to sit, and when it was time to hold their paper trees and stars aloft and sway to the music, he could have been conducting the William Tell Overture.

Cosette Speaks

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The elementary school program, meanwhile, put all the classes on stage at the same time. None of that tedious shuffling back and forth we’ve seen in the past. Lined up front and center were the kindergartners, clueless as cattle, a pair of animal ears or horns stuck on each little head. Cosette was a cow. It was a speaking part. Which makes a lot of sense if you know her.

Grace Endures

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The second-grade girls were little angels. No, really. They had wings. At one point between songs, I looked over and saw Grace sitting on the riser, chin in hand, looking about as bored as anyone wearing wings and a tinsel halo can.

Christian Is Good

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There was less poking, nudging and tittering among the third grade boys than you might expect. Christian isn’t usually what you’d call a model of decorum, but he stood up straight, sang and didn’t cross his eyes once … which is more than I can say for some of his friends.

Oh My Maria

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So there they were, the entire student body (it isn’t a big school) gathered on stage. I expected to be somewhat moved, surrounded as I was by progeny. What caught me off guard was seeing Maria wearing a little black dress and standing with the other seventh grade girls. I remembered her first Christmas program. She had her elf hat on backwards so the bell on top dangled down in her face. I looked over at Cosette standing amid a herd of pint-size sheep and donkeys. And I’ll tell you the truth, I could have wept.

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Just a Little Christmas Horror Story

Such a busy weekend I had. I shopped for toys and gifts, baked bread and made soup, played Christmas music and danced around the kitchen. I did all these happy things so that I wouldn’t have to think.

I haven’t been watching TV or going on news websites. I turn the front page face down before reading the rest of the newspaper. I tune the car radio to the all-Christmas-music-all-the-time channel, and I don’t even like most Christmas music.

I won’t look at pictures of the first graders who died in Connecticut on Friday or the adults who died with them. I don’t want to know their names. I don’t want to hear the comments from their families. And I don’t want to think about the phone calls that went out to all the grandmas.

Because I am a grandma, of a sweet, smart, thoughtful first grader, and also a preschooler, second grader and sixth grader. I don’t want to think about what it would be like to know they wouldn’t be at my house on Christmas Day or any Christmas Day in the future.

I am angry and sad and sick to death of it all. Of mass killings that have become commonplace. Of turning on the local news and learning that another child was gunned down in their own neighborhood. I’m sick of the NRA and the enormous power of the gun lobby, the excuses and convoluted logic. I’m mad at people like me who didn’t fight harder for gun control.

I am going to two school Christmas programs this week. They will be fun and silly, and the kids will do what kids always do. But this year I will bring tissues.

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Go East, They Said

JILL WITH LADY LIBERTY. THIS IS AS CLOSE AS WE GOT BECAUSE WE THOUGHT RIDING THE FERRY WOULD MAKE US SICK. THE BIRD ADDS A NICE TOUCH, I THINK.
JILL WITH LADY LIBERTY. THIS IS AS CLOSE AS WE GOT BECAUSE WE THOUGHT RIDING THE FERRY WOULD MAKE US SICK. THE BIRD ADDS A NICE TOUCH, I THINK.

I was in New York City last week with daughter Jill, where I made a profound discovery. I have lived my entire life in the wrong place. It never felt quite right living here among the tall blondes, and now I know why. My people hie to the East, in the land of small brunettes who know better than to expect anything from people and wouldn’t dream of leaving the house without makeup.

The last trip I took was three years ago with daughter Jessica, when we went to the other coast, where people are mellow and we sat around a lot drinking wine. That was a nice, relaxing trip. This was a nice trip too, but not relaxing. You have to move fast if you want to see everything in New York. I distinctly remember spending three minutes in Grand Central Station, immersing ourselves in the ambience, before briskly moving on to see that big tree at Rockefeller Center. Check and check.

JILL AT ST. PATRICK'S CATHEDRAL. I LIT TWO CANDLES FOR MY MOM AND DAD FOR A DONATION OF $4. ONE OF THE CHEAPER THINGS YOU CAN DO IN NEW YORK.
JILL AT ST. PATRICK’S CATHEDRAL. I LIT TWO CANDLES FOR MY MOM AND DAD FOR A DONATION OF $4. ONE OF THE CHEAPER THINGS YOU CAN DO IN NEW YORK.

You might want to check your credit card limit if you’re planning a trip to New York. The restaurants, the shows, the shopping. By the end of the week, I had given up any shred of restraint and was whipping out my Visa card like I was Sarah Jessica Parker.

We bought subway passes, thinking to save a few bucks on cabs, but we got disgusted after a few days and gave up. It isn’t that the people are weird or the subways dangerous; it’s that you can’t figure out where the hell you are when you get off and have to walk a block in the wrong direction before you figure it out. I don’t think the New Yorkians really want strangers on their subways, as they have opted for obscure neighborhood names on the platform signs in lieu of universally recognized directionals (N, S, E, W).

So we took a lot of taxis, and got to know a lot of cab drivers. Some mute, some chatty, all maniacs. There are traffic lanes, but driving in them is completely optional. The cops don’t care. Who are they going to stop? Everyone?

Let us hurry up as fast as we can, ladies, driving within inches of the cars on either side of us and then slamming on the brakes, because there is no way we’re going to make it around that sanitation truck and through the yellow light without taking out the guy riding his skateboard BETWEEN THE MOVING CARS. But you can try, can’t you.

IT'S CHRISTMAS TIME, SO THERE ARE A LOT OF CHARACTERS WALKING AROUND. YOU CAN TAKE THEIR PICTURE IF YOU TIP THEM.
IT’S CHRISTMAS TIME, SO THERE ARE A LOT OF CHARACTERS WALKING AROUND. YOU CAN TAKE THEIR PICTURE IF YOU TIP THEM.

We saw three Broadway shows in New York, which you can do for roughly the cost of a small pony. Just my opinion, of course, but the best of the three was Newsies, the most overrated was The Book of Mormon and the most disappointing was Chicago, only because someone thought casting Billy Ray Cyrus as Billy Flynn for a holiday run was a good idea.

But that’s okay. The older I get the more I think I’d better start wasting my money on some fun stuff. Does anyone really want to go to their grave thinking, “Thank God. I was able to leave every penny I had to the kids.”

CENTRAL PARK, NOVEMBER 2012
CENTRAL PARK, NOVEMBER 2012

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I’ll Meet You at the Station

ARRIVING ON PLATFORM NO. 5

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?”

BRING YOUR VISA CARD.

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Shades of Christmas Programs Past

JUDGE NOT. REMEMBER THE HERDMANS.

Dec. 20, 2006
If I hadn’t had to work yesterday, I wouldn’t have been exhausted at my granddaughter’s Christmas program, even if it did go on and on…and on. Because why settle for one rendition of “Jingle Bells” when there are three? And if you’re paying good money for trombone and cymbal lessons, I suppose you want to hear the school band play 10 or 20 tunes with a general holiday flavor. Anyway, it was worth it to hear the kindergartners get through “Elfie the Elf.” Maria was the elf with her hat on backwards, so she was easy to spot. I have no complaints.

Dec. 21, 2007
Went to the always surprising school Christmas program last night. You may remember last year’s event, when the school band played no less than three versions of “Jingle Bells” and Maria distinguished herself by wearing her elf hat backwards with the bell dangling in front. This year I’m happy to report that the band was restricted to playing the overture and Maria not only sang but also attempted to keep the boy next to her on task despite vigorous resistance. This year’s program had a soccer theme – kind of a stretch, I thought, but having the advantage of minimal costuming, since jerseys and shorts took care of almost the entire cast.

So the evening should have been, and probably would have been, straightforward were it not for my other grandchildren – three under the age of four now, and all with no sense whatever of acceptable audience behavior. Christian ate all the candy meant to sustain them for the night in the first five minutes, while Grace never lost her fascination with flip-up auditorium seating. And you might think a three-month-old child somewhat limited – they sleep, they lie there, they cry. Not so. Cosette sings. Infant singing is a sort of unearthly sound that’s hard to describe, but it’s loud and won’t be deterred by some stupid pacifier.

All in all, an entertaining evening, and no more than I expected.

Dec. 29, 2008
Made it through the annual Christmas programs again. The elementary school put on a play about the true meaning of Christmas, which I’m sure inspired every parent and grandparent to rush home and return all those toys in the closet. It took me a long time to figure out what the girl in the bell costume was supposed to be. Until she started ding-donging, I was pretty sure she was a lampshade, but if you think about it, that makes no sense. Maria was in the choir. She is an excellent choir member.

Being an equal-opportunity grandma, I also went to the preschool Christmas program, where you can always count on seeing three- and four-year-olds not follow the script. There’s always one little girl who knows the words and motions to every song, a bunch of little ones who give it a half-hearted try, and a kid who won’t do a thing. I was pretty sure that kid would be Christian, but I was wrong. He sang and he didn’t fall off the steps.

When Christian first started preschool, my daughter Jill was a little alarmed by what you might call his anti-social behavior (I wouldn’t call it that but no one ever sides with me). Anyway, we were all happy when Christian made a friend. Elliot wears glasses and comes about to Christian’s chin. Elliot was the kid who wouldn’t do anything. Not one word, not one finger twitch. Elliot was a statue. I like Elliot.

Dec. 18, 2009
This year’s preschool Christmas program lived up to every expectation, largely due to the boys in the Teddy Bear class, who are three and four years old and have no attention span worth mentioning. My favorite kid this year was the boy who had his back to us for the entire concert. I suppose if you don’t plan on singing anyway, why look at your parents (and grandparents who came all the way from Burnsville) sitting hopefully in the audience?

Then about midway through “Building up a Temple,” another Teddy Bear, who apparently found just being there exhausting, decided to sit down on the step. This caught on quickly, of course, and pretty soon the boys on either side of him were sitting on the step too…until one of them decided to climb the steps to see how the boy who wouldn’t face the audience was doing. At this point Mrs. Olsen, the Teddy Bear teacher and no dummy, went on stage and restored order.

Meanwhile, the girls kept singing. My granddaughter Grace, who has a very small speaking voice, sings really loud, so we had no trouble at all hearing her. She had every word and gesture down too, and after the program Mrs. Olsen very kindly called her “our star,” which I think is pretty much what Gracie sees when she looks into the future.

After the Teddy Bears sat down, it was time for the Frog class to sing. Most of them are five and have been down this road before, so while the girls still carried the load, the boys endured. There was the kid who kept us up to date with announcements between each song (“This is the last one!”), but at least nobody gave up and sat down. Christian is big now. I waved at him like a lunatic and got half a smile. I still gave him lots of kisses afterward and told him how great he did. He didn’t care.

So that was it, and I don’t think you could spend a more enjoyable hour during the holiday season.

December 22, 2010
I went to Maria and Christian’s school Christmas program last night, which is usually one of the happier things I do during the holidays. This year’s performance had everything you’d expect and then some. You haven’t really heard “Jolly Old St. Nicholas” until you’ve heard it played on the recorder by a bunch of fourth graders. And the school band was in fine form, although the lack of a bass drum player meant one of the female flutists had to take over that instrument for “Here Comes Santa Claus.” The girl’s utter disdain for the bass drum was truly impressive. She could barely get out of her folding chair and drag herself over to it. And then you’d think the mallet weighed 50 pounds. I don’t believe I’ve ever heard “Here Comes Santa Claus” played more mournfully.
 
The bell ringers went on a little too long (four holiday tunes with no verses omitted), but I am loathe to criticize them lest Maria have bell-ringing in her future.
 
Christian’s kindergarten class did a commendable job, particularly on “Jingle Bells,” where they got to ring the little bells hanging around their necks at all the jingly spots. As they had to wait for their turn a good long while sitting on stage, the bells became objects of great fascination – first you examine your own bell, then you study your neighbor’s bell, then you hang the bell from your ears. 
 
In the finale, the fourth graders sang. That’s Maria’s class, and while most of the classes looked more resigned than merry, the fourth-grade girls were almost bouncy. They smiled, they knew all the words and they sang loud. I concluded that fourth-grade girls are a good way to wrap up a Christmas program.

For the Love of Grace

Went to the annual Trinity Baptist Preschool Christmas Program yesterday, always a treat. Grace, who jumped up to the Frog class this year, was of course up to the task. Gracie likes people, she likes preschool, the world is good and singing is her thing. In fact, all the Frogs (ages 4-5) did pretty well, or at least tried, unlike some malcontents in the Teddy Bear class (ages 3-4) who flat-out refused.

The Teddy Bears were up first, probably because it’s hard to keep them focused for more than five minutes. Two of the boys wouldn’t sing at all this year. The one in the front row was obviously ticked off from start to finish. The one in back stood silent for the first half of the program, then decided to sit down on the step, and finally just laid face-down and covered his head with his arms.

The Frogs, having attained a certain level of maturity, did better. All of them kind of moved their mouths and some did the motions. The one touch-and-go moment was during “The Five Days of Christmas,” when they took turns going up in groups to hang their ornaments on a little tree. The maneuvering involved in going up and down the steps, getting one’s ornament to stay on the tree, then meeting another group going the other way, was almost too suspenseful to watch. Still they all made it back to their assigned places. Sort of.

Turns out the boy who laid down on the step has a crush on Grace. I found this out from her father, who found out from Mrs. Wilson, the Frog class teacher, that the boy either kissed Grace or tried to (that part is a little vague), which is the kind of thing teachers have to report to parents nowadays. My son-in-law, Lynn, wasn’t too happy about it either. He told Gracie, “Next time you just tell him to shake your hand.” Seriously.

Anyway, it was another thoroughly enjoyable Christmas program. And everyone did really well at eating cookies, drinking juice and running around the gym afterward. No dropouts there.