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.

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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.

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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.

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Grandma Judy Calls the Roll

I went to Maria’s softball game this week. This is her first year playing fastpitch, and I’m thinking she may want to work on her self-confidence in the batter’s box. She appears as likely to wait for the walk as to swing at any given pitch. Not a bad strategy actually, and one I can relate to, but connecting bat and ball seems sort of core to the game. On the other hand, the girl can run once she gets on base.

Christian, who turned eight this week, is feeling miffed that his march to adulthood hasn’t equated to something more than bigger sneakers. As he told his mother, doggone it, he is old enough for the 12-inch sub at Subway now.

Grace was at Maria’s softball game, although she wasn’t exactly in thrall of the action on the field and as a result spent a good part of the time capturing the local color with my camera. Which is how I end up with photos like this of some random bald guy…

and the now ubiquitous, but always riveting shot of Gracie’s feet…

Cosette spent the week fixating on her birthday, still three months away but why wait till the last minute. It was the subject of numerous phone calls, with instructions on finding Thomas the Tank Engine toys (Aisle 2 at Target), the theme for her cake (Thomas the Tank Engine), and where to park when I get to the party (not in the street but in the driveway next to the neighbors’ flowers, Daddy will show me where).

Bret Jr.
Toddler Bret remains as exuberant as ever. Recently he conked me in the head with a cookie. (I know it shouldn’t hurt, but it did.) We were at a birthday party where they passed out big hard cookies in plastic bags, an open invitation to reckless cookie swinging and I should know better than to bend down to talk to a toddler in those circumstances. It wasn’t as painful as the time Toddler Christian broke my nose, or even the time Toddler Maria clobbered me with a hair brush, but it smarted. So don’t go giving toddlers potentially harmful cookies in plastic bags. Just don’t.

A small bird has built a small nest in the ivy growing up a pillar outside my front door, and now I can’t get up on a ladder to pull the wayward ivy off the house without risking being pecked in the eye. And so it goes.

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Dumb Wildlife

For the third day in a row I’ve had to pull a pile of twigs out of my newspaper box. Some clueless but determined bird fills it up about as quickly as I can empty it. While I don’t mind a persistent bird as much as persistent hornets, who continue to try to establish a hive in the eaves over the kitchen window despite the fact that I keep blasting it off with the hose, obviously I cannot allow wildlife to nest in the newspaper box. Even if I had the carrier throw the paper in the driveway until the baby birds had hatched and flown away, the mailbox is part of the whole setup, and I can’t have some territorial mother bird dive-bombing the mail carrier. I am not going to the post office to pick up my mail just because a stupid bird can’t figure things out.

One fall some Swifts built a nest in my chimney. They made a racket up there and, convinced it was a raccoon, I sent up an exterminator, only to find out that Swifts are protected and cannot be removed from your chimney no matter how much they annoy you. You just have to put up with it until the whole family picks up and flies away. Forget about having a fire.

I don’t know why the creatures of this earth want to torment me. There was a turtle in the garage last week. It had parked itself under the car and I was afraid to back out, because the last thing I need to come home to is a dead turtle. I think it’s the same one that’s been hanging around since Mother’s Day, when daughter Jessica spotted it in the driveway and made her boyfriend John reluctantly put it in a bucket and then transfer it into a plastic kiddy pool to show the grandkids; except that it looked so pathetic trying to scramble up the sides of the pool that they let it go and it crawled off into the raspberry bushes to hide, which was ridiculous because any one of my grandchildren could have been the inspiration for Lord of the Flies. Well, not Grace.

Since then I have seen the turtle plowing through the grass, parked on the front walk and lurking in the rock garden. Yesterday it was back in the raspberry bushes. At least I think it’s the same one. They all look the same, green and neurotic. Stalked by a turtle, besieged by things that fly. No wonder I’m a mess.

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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.

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Grandma Judy’s Birthday

Grandma Judy had a birthday this week. She doesn’t care much for birthdays anymore and would prefer to forget them altogether, but people keep making her celebrate anyway.

Grandma Judy’s idea of a good birthday is finding an expensive present to buy herself. This year she bought TWO presents (because she deserves it): a silver bracelet from Turkey and a black corded clutch purse from the 1940s. These things help Grandma Judy feel a little less irritated about life. She bought some shoes, earrings and books too, which didn’t count as birthday gifts, but what the heck, she was out.

Grandma Judy’s family took her to Red Robin Gourmet Burgers for dinner, an excellent choice when your party includes five children under age eleven, including a toddler who gets mad if you put the wrong food in front of him. Grandma Judy finds her grandchildren highly amusing even when their parents do not.

Grandma Judy’s grandchildren gave her several wonderful homemade drawings to help her forget how much she doesn’t like birthdays. These children are the most precious things in her life. So if there is a lesson to be learned here, I guess it would be: if you are going to get older, better get yourself some grandkids. Also, there is no harm in surprising yourself with a nice birthday gift.


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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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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.

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Things I’m Thinking

I’m thinking I won’t have that bunionectomy after all. I discovered that the recovery can be treacherous, prolonged and painful and realized my foot isn’t that bad. I think a combination of various shoe inserts will do the trick, I really do. Also, I wasn’t crazy about the doctor doing the surgery (here are your options, Judy, pick one or don’t, your hoof is just one in the herd). Shoe orthotics, that’s the thing for me.

This is a holiday?
Went to the grocery store yesterday and Target today. Both were packed, it being Super Bowl weekend, which is second only to New Year’s Eve in sales of chicken wings and guacamole dip. I don’t really care about the Super Bowl unless my team is playing. And since the Vikings haven’t been super for some time, the only thing left would be the commercials, and you don’t have to sit through the game to see them anymore. You can watch them online.

I see there’s another talking baby ad. Am I the only person who thinks talking baby ads are creepy? The only thing more disturbing than talking babies are dancing baby ads, which would give real babies nightmares. Leave the babies out of it, that’s what I say.

The wages of love (or that’s what you get)
With Valentine’s Day around the corner, the other thing you see in stores now are a lot of sales on K-Y and similar products designed to enhance your special moment. You may notice that directly below these shelves are the ones holding an array of pregnancy tests. If you ask me, there should be a big arrow pointing from one to the other. See? This is what happens. Might as well pick up one of each right now.

Real babies are sort of aimless
Gina and the kids will be back today. They were here yesterday while Man Bret was sanding the kitchen cupboards, a six-Advil job that resumes today. Toddler Bret spent a good part of yesterday trying to climb the stairs. He can’t do it alone, of course. He’d kill himself. And he has no purpose in climbing the stairs anyway. When he gets to the top, he just wants to come down again. This is what he likes because he’s 18 months old and has all the time in the world.

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