July 3, 2010

Just as the Garden Tour was finishing, the Barely Extended Family arrived. They had stopped at some of the other gardens on the way in, and at a playground for Random Granddaughter to have a break from adult pastimes.

After visiting the Friendly Neighbors Garden after it had closed they came over to our house. I feed the chickens sow bugs as a treat, but I had been warned that RG collects sow bugs in little houses, so I wasn’t sure if having her help me feed some to the chickens would be politically correct.

Gingerly, I mentioned, “I feed sow bugs to the chickens as a treat. Do you want to help me collect some for them?”

She looked at me with a blank look. Eventually I discovered she did not know the term, “Sow bug.” She calls them, “rolly pollies.” Once the linguistic difficulties were overcome, she enthusiastically helped me turn over rocks and put the rolly polly bugs into a plastic dish and feed them to the chickens.

I think RG’s position at the top of the food chain is safe, unless we discover grizzly bears living in our woods, or a great white shark living in the Friendly Neighbors’ duck pond.

In New Zealand, sow bugs are known as “slaters.” If Australia and New Zealand are at peace, they may use that term as well.

(Part 2 of the visit to Mary from Peru.)

Random Granddaughter is beginning to integrate with adult society. Although RG was appalled and horrified by the delicious Peruvian food Mary prepared for us, she politely took a bite of the vegetables and rice Mary served in her lovely apartment and ate some of the cilantro’d chicken Mary served.

Although she was bored by the adult conversation, she sat politely, merely helping herself to use one of Mary’s combs to use to comb her doll’s hair as she ignored the adult conversation. As the doll is based on a Williamsburg little girl, RG’s distraction was a deft way to bring the conversation around to her recent trip to colonial Williamsburg (while visiting her “East Coast” grandparents). As a budding artist, our granddaughter was most interested in watching how they made red paint. RG found it charmingly gross that they crush 70,000 cochineal beetles (from South America!) to generate a useful quantity of red dye.

Saturday, Mommy (Random Granddaughter’s birth mother), RG and I went to visit my Peruvian friend, Mary, so named (instead of Maria) because Mary’s father liked American movies, naming Mary’s sister, “Vivian,” after Vivian Leigh, and naming Mary after American movie stars in general.

Mrs. Random did not come because she was helping open the organic farmer’s market, for the season where she barristas and serves her own splendid organic whole grain baked goods that are not as heavy as bricks. They are not only wholesome; they taste good. Is that not indeed magic worthy of Harry Potter?

Our daughter, Mama, did not come because she had a graduate school midterm Monday. My daughter has a Bachelor’s degree in biology and a Master’s degree in horticulture but she is now pursuing a Master’s degree in medical statistics. My daughter has not attended any of her graduations. However, as she has been studying calculus and statistics with such incredible discipline and concentration, I regard my daughter as being under the spell of an evil sorcerer. I told her that when she graduates from her current program, I will attend the graduation, and as they hand her her diploma, I will stop the ceremony and perform a ceremony to free my daughter from her enchantment. “You are now free to stop studying incessantly and function like a normal human being,” I will gravely intone in front of the other enchanted students, just as the campus police arrive to drag me away.

To be continued with disturbing evidence that RG is growing up and merging with society.

April 4, 2010

The phone rang this Easter morning. A little voice wished her grandma and grandpa “Happy Easter.” As she is a child genius, not to mention a science fiction child, Random Granddaughter can keep all her grandmas (5) and grandpas (4) straight. Her mommies will take her to see two grandmas and two grandpas in Virginia soon.

The last time I took her to the library, she selected a book about a little girl growing up in colonial Williamsburg, which she found very interesting when I read it to her. Mommy (my daughter’s partner and birth mother of RG) said that when they go to Virginia to visit grandparents, they will take her to visit colonial Williamsburg as well. So far in her six years, RG has chosen careers as a train engineeress, ferry captainess, firechieftess, painteress, and teacheress (influenced a bit by Mommy) who teaches at the private school for Very Bright Children where RG attends kindergarten. I suspect that RG may now embark on a career as a historianess, though as a science fiction child, she may decide to invent time travel.

As a child, I read a lot of science fiction. I never liked “time travel” stories very much, in part because most of them involved paradoxes, such as suppose someone goes back in time and kills her own grandfather. In RG’s case, with two daddies and two mommies, and nine grandparents, this could get very complicated.

I have three final thoughts.

1. I am glad I am not the biological grandparent.

2. However, just to be the safe side, I will be very nice to her, anyway. For example, when the baby chicks arrive, we will let her pet and feed them.

3. I think she should wait until she grows up before tries to be a mad scientist who invents time travel. I will so advise the mommies.

The older I get, the more certain I am that a) truth is difficult to determine and b) the best way to proceed is difficult to determine in issues of dealing with our lives, whether we are 66 years old, as am I, or 6 years old, as RG will be in about a week. It’s all a perplexity.

As Norwichrocks said, a lot of the children’s books are twaddle, perhaps including the ones I described in the previous post. Yet, the mommies’ rather bowdlerized approach to Random Granddaughter’s reading matter seems to work fairly well. And the Rhianna and Jamaica books that RG picked out (and they were picked out by her and are unknown to her mommies) seemed to be of interest to her and discussed issues and concerns of interest and concern to RG. I only summarized one of the books, but RG enjoyed all three books we read and each led to interesting conversations and observations by her. I think she should indeed learn the word “twaddle,” but I should be respectful that what might seem to be twaddle to me may not be to her. Or she may someday get a PhD in twaddle.

However, I will indeed investigate the the curious books blog woo mentioned to me. Carefully and cautiously.

By the age of 3, Random Granddaughter had decided (an interest continuing up until the age of 5) on a career as a fire captain, today somewhat replaced by teaching and art. She never mentioned wanting to go into police work. However, being a police officer may have been added to her career horizon.

As we left the library and headed back toward themommies’ house, we heard a siren. Ahead of us, we saw two motorcycle policemen at an intersection, stopping a few cars as they came toward them through the traffic light. After they stopped a couple of cars, they would look at ID, examine the driver, and let him proceed.

We watched as after a while, the turned around and moved methodically up the street ahead of us. Although RG does not watch television or read the newspaper, and lives in a very mellow and PC urban neighborhood, she seems to be getting sophisticated about modern life. RG speculated that the motorcycle officers were “looking for crooks.” I agreed this was a real possibility, and briefly to related to her a story from 30 years ago when I “helped” the police look for a crook.

Many years ago when I was teaching high school in Seattle’s semi-ghetto, I asked students in one of my classes to participate in some kind of experience in the community (outside of school). Several chose to do “ride-alongs” with the Seattle Police Department. If a young lady wanted to do such an activity, the Police Department required her to bring along an adult male [presumably to protect her against the police abusing or taking advantage of her].

One female student, Linda, came to me in some distress. She was going to ride with the police with her brother as the duenna/observer. When they arrived at the police station, the police promptly arrested her brother for having a long collection of unpaid traffic tickets. The next day, Linda approached me in with great worry about doing her homework assignment. I had to admit that “The police arrested my male duenna,” far surpassed, “The dog ate my homework,” as an excuse, so I was a pushover for her request that I join her for a ride to fight crime.

On the appointed night, after they had checked my name for outstanding or inferior warrants, Linda and I climbed into the back seat of a police car. The two officers in the front seat were very friendly and professional—I was sure they had been carefully vetted to be presentable to the public. Although the first hour of the evening was fairly routine, a couple of calls by the dispatcher alerted us to look for a stolen car. Driven by an escaped convict. Who had already mugged a woman earlier that day.

As we came out of a bar, where the officers had calmly and politely calmed a disturbance, one of the cops exclaimed, “There he is!” I was immensely impressed with his vision and alertness. From the merest glance of his peripheral vision, he had identified the vehicle, read the license plate, and ID’d the driver as the wanted prison escapee as the car sped by.

We leaped into the police car, radioed the dispatcher, turned on the sirens and set off in pursuit. Soon joined by at least half a dozen other squad cars, we raced up and down the Southeast end of Seattle in pursuit of the fleeing felon. Eventually, he was cornered and herded into a McDonald’s parking lot. Cops surrounded his car, yanked him out of the car, threw him on the ground, and handcuffed him.

The two officers apologetically explained the rest of the evening would be taken up with paperwork and our ride along would be cut short. Linda, my student, assured me it was the best homework assignment she had ever had. I don’t know if she went into a career in law enforcement, in crime, or in television. I related a simplified version of this story to RG, who in turn told it to the mommies. It seems clear that police work has been added to her list of careers to evaluate.

Perhaps she will be an undercover cop who drives ferryboats while teaching classes and drawing sketches of felons from witness descriptions. And putting out fires as a hobby.

After the mommies and RG and I had lunch, Mama went back to studying her calculus and statistics, and Mommy went to the hardware store, and Random Granddaughter and I went to the library.

She selected some books, and then asked me to read them to her. Several of the books were about two little girls. One, named Brianna, is Asian, and the other, whose name is Jamaica, is black. RG is being raised to value diversity, living in a multi-racial urban neighborhood, having two mommies and two daddies (none of whom is married to any of the others), and having a crazy Grandpa. So don’t tell RG about your diversity because you don’t know diversity unless you are a science fiction child like RG.

The two girls seemed to be in kindergarten and always seemed to be having little human relations problems. If Oprah Winfrey wrote books for kindergarteners, these would be the books.

As RG is seriously considering being an artist, even though she is not allowed to send pictures to Auntie Woo in Australia, and is afraid to, because she is an introvert, she was interested in one of the stories. Jamaica is making a picture with marker pens. It is a very nice picture of a tree (brown pen) with leaves (green pen). The teacher brings over a little boy—I forget his name so I will call him Dudley Dingbat—and explains he doesn’t have any markers and asks Jamaica to lend him one. She lends him one, a blue one, with somewhat bad grace.

Dudley starts to draw a picture and then crumples it up and throws it on the floor. Then he starts to scribble all over Jamaica’s picture. She takes the picture home to her black mother and black daddy [that’s OK, but a multi-racial family would be diverser] and is very sad. Eventually it all gets sorted out Oprah style—the boy’s dad is moving because his dad got a new family, etc—you can find the book if you really care.


The interesting part is that Random Granddaughter told me that her best friend—whom I call BIP [for bad influence peer, and is the daughter of a billionaire] sometimes crumples up her pictures and throws them on the floor. This is interesting, because the mommies are not too enthusiastic about RG’s close relationship with BIP, partly because I had not been digging for this or asking leading questions–perhaps because BIP is a bratty extrovert and RG is a bratty introvert sidekick, perhaps because the mommies don’t have a lot of money and are afraid that RG—a child genius—or perhaps just a very smart little girl—will start to place too much value on money—though if BIP is fairly messed up, and it sounds to me as if she is—then RG may draw the right conclusions, perhaps before her hormones kick in, which may not happen until she is seven or eight or so—the right conclusions being that money alone will not make you happy. Though it is hard to know. If nothing else, some day RG may write a brilliant, successful memoir titled something like I Had Two Mommies, Two Daddies, A Crazy Grandpa, and a Very Messed Up Heiress as a Best Friend in Kindergarten, and make a lot of money, appear on television to tell her story to Oprah’s god-granddaughter and be a messed up science fiction child. Your mileage may vary.

As we were getting ready to leave to see the mommies and Random Granddaughter, I noticed a distressed look on my wife’s face. When I queried her, she said, “I feel like I am going to throw up. I do not want to make anyone sick. You go. I will stay home.”

When I got to the mommies, RG was talking on the phone. Mommy (my daughter’s partner and RG’s birth mother) said, “She is talking to her dad. He is Amsterdam with his mom.”

RG has flown to Virginia and to Chicago, but not to Europe. Mommy said, “Dad keeps threatening to take her to Europe.” I am sure when that day occurs, RG will take Europe by storm as she has America.

Mama (my daughter) stayed upstairs and studied her calculus and statistics for her graduate school class. She explained what she is studying a little bit. I tried to look alert and comprehending, much as Sylvie, the mommies’ adorable cat, tries to loot alert and comprehending when we explain to her when she wants to go outside that she can’t because the raccoons and the coyotes who live in the city will eat her.

Mommy and RG and I went to the Arboretum to feed the ducks. The mommies are very nutrition conscious, so we didn’t bring stale white bread. RG had a bag of organic oats. RG threw oats at the ducks. It is hard to read the expression on a duck’s face, but I suspect the ducks’ faces said, “We would like stale white bread crumbs just as well, thank you.”

We then walked for a bit and then RG spied something interesting on the shore of a lagoon. We went to examine it. “That’s a dead beaver,” said Mommy.

RG stared at the dead beaver for quite a while with interest. I didn’t tell her that the dead beaver’s name, when alive, was “Existential Dilemma.” Or perhaps it was “I build dams, damn it!”

We then returned to the small house in the medium-sized city. As Mommy fixed us a nice lunch, she told me that her mother, who is 69, has arrhythmia in her heart. She is not in any danger of dying immediately, but the doctors have been inserting tubes up into her heart and trying to get it to beat in the proper rhythm. The process in very painful and uncomfortable.

My cousin Julie told me that my Aunt Henriette was told she needs an operation on her heart. Henriette has always believed that good nutrition and exercise would help her live forever, but she has agreed to have the operation. Her son Carl, who has been very estranged from his mother, is flying out to be with her. He has no money, so Julie is paying for his plane trip. (She calls it a loan, but I doubt that she is holding her breath waiting for repayment).

I try to be very nice to my daughter and her partner and that she will be able to afford the ferry trip to visit us when the time comes. At the moment, my blood sugar is at an acceptable level, and my blood pressure is at a good level as well, and my heart goes into the training level on the treadmill fairly readily, but one never knows.

January 28, 2010

As I mentioned in a comment on David’s blog, I had a conversation with my Aunt Henriette a few days ago.. I learned from my cousin that she was in the hospital for two days because her heart is calcified. I suspect that she is close to dying, but she will not admit she is failing until five minutes after she expires, which is perhaps the best approach to take to the matter.

My aunts, like my grandmother, were/are all tough, narcissist broads, and about as difficult to knock off as Rasputin.

After the usual awkward conversation about diet with my Aunt Henriette, who considers herself an expert on health care and who wanted to go over what supplements I take and so on, I changed the subject (not sure I wanted to be prescribed to by a dying woman) and began to explore my roots.

As a child, I detested my grandparents and my parents, so I mostly avoided asking about or learning about my ancestry. Henriette is still alert and articulate.

I know that my mother’s parents were Ukranian Jews (though in those days everything in the area was considered “Russian,” I think), but I didn’t have much of a picture of my father’s roots. In passing, I got an interesting perspective on the toxic roots of my childhood and my parents.

In terms of ancestry, my paternal grandmother was born in Latvia (Jewish, of course) and arrived in the United States at the age of two. My paternal grandfather was born in the United States. His ancestors were Hungarian Jews, and made a living as musicians, often playing at weddings. So, in the unlikely event anyone is interested, I am a Ukrainian, Latvian, Hungarian Jewish radical agnostic.

The interesting information was about my grandmother, whom I remember (from her last years of life, when she lived with my Aunt Naomi in Southern California) as a dreadful narcissistic monster.

The information below is a combination of my recent conversation, and information I’ve received at other times (such as family reunions). As a young woman, around the turn the century, Grandma Agnes was an energetic feminist and career woman, working at several jobs, including as a secretary in a steel mill.

However, at one point she was a script writer for a movie studio. This was in New York City. Some of the movie studios operated in New York City as well as in California in the early days of the movie business.

At some point, Agnes married my grandfather Harry (who was a dentist who studied with John Harvey Kellogg in Battle Creek Michigan (and thus we enter the world of The Road to Wellness, which David recommended I read).

 However, Kellogg was notoriously phobic about sex, and Grandfather Harry didn’t get the memo, as my aunts told me that he was an enthusiastic horn dog, though as far as I know, faithful to Grandma Agnes. Anyway, Agnes became pregnant fairly quickly and had three daughters—Aunt Diana, Aunt Naomi, Aunt Henriette (the baby), and one son, my father. When Grandma Agnes found herself a mother, her budding career as a scriptwriter and who knows what else was destroyed and she became quite angry and embittered, and turned her fury on Diana, her oldest daughter.

On top of that, Grandfather Harry, as a big fan of Kellogg, administered enemas to all the members of his family. Diana became irate at both mom and dad, stormed out of her family, and eventually married a conventional medical doctor. In my alternative health care fanatic family, this was the ultimate insult.

To add further to the drama and commotion, Diana, much like her mother, a narcissistic monster, in the words of her children, “Destroyed her husband, the doctor.”

Diana got the worst treatment from Grandma Agnes, but all of my father’s family suffered quite a bit. My Aunt Naomi, who studied to be a ballet dancer, and was tall and beautiful as a young woman, fell in love with some pretentious “guru” who placed some spell over the entire family and ran off to California with him.

Eventually, Naomi tossed him aside and fell in love with my Uncle Donald, a cowboy from a California high desert ranching family, who became an engineer and eventually a chiropractor. As a tough cowboy, used to breaking wild horses, and about ten years younger, Donald was about equal to Naomi, and they had a fairly happy and successful marriage. As I’ve told elsewhere, their daughter, Joanna, became fluent in Chinese and co-founded with her Taiwanese husband the multi-national baby stroller/baby furniture company Graco and became a millionaire. She also became a bit of a heroine in Taiwan because after her youngest daughter was implanted with the first cochlear implant for a Chinese child, she set up a foundation to provide care for deaf children born in Taiwan.

 There’s more, some of which I’ve told at other times. I have two points I will close with. If I had writing talent like say T. Correghesan Boyle,, and had paid attention as a child, I could have used my family as a launching pad for a great memoir. I care not much.

 The other point is that toxic strains in families creep down through many generations. Grandmother Agnes getting pregnant had terrible effects on at least the families of three of her children, (Naomi and Donald did pretty well with my cousins Joanna and her sister Valerie) but the rest of her children and their families were fairly well ruined.

Except perhaps, in my case. I just turned 66 a few days ago. I am fairly content with my life. My wife and I both came from fairly toxic families. I am most proud that we were able to break free of noxious roots and stay on good terms with our daughter and her partner.

They, in turn, seem to be doing quite well with the illustrious Random Granddaughter, though as she is a notorious drama queen and the terror of her kindergarten (with her partner in crime the billionaire’s daughter) at the School for Very Bright Children,  the jury is still out.

This weekend we will visit the barely extended family and celebrate my birthday, my wife’s birthday, and little child genius’ birthday.

Though, of course, she may take advantage of her birthday party to tell us that she is disowning us.

Grandparents Day (Part 5)

December 2, 2009

When my wife and I talked with the mommies after Grands day, we learned that Random Granddaughter is working quite diligently on creating a life full of tumult. Mommy gave the private school counselor a ride to her home after work and learned that RG was recently involved in some “creative story telling.”

I don’t remember the exact details, but it involved a toy or piece of costume jewelry that had disappeared for a couple of days ago and RG found it and shared an imaginative story about how it had been discovered again (by her, of course).

The mommies have always encouraged RG to be truthful. Until the age of four she was notably honest.

I suspect that children, in general, learn, from about the age of five, to embellish and manipulate and “spin” information before presenting it to adults. In other words, children learn to lie by the age of five.

I remember when I was five leaving a jacket at school and telling my parents a lie about it. My father, whom I suspect was a pretty good liar himself, punished me severely and gave me a big speech about always telling the truth. My reaction, of course, was to dedicate myself more diligently at concealing and dissembling to the adults around me.

Grandparents Day (Part 4)

December 1, 2009

After our visit to Random Granddaughter’s kindergarten class and observation of her performance as a cow in the bowdlerized dramatization of “The Gingerbread Boy,” we joined the mommies and RG for dinner at their house. After a very weary RG had gone to bed, we learned a little more of the back story of her attachment to BIP (Bad influence Peer).

As the private school has a preschool, fourteen of the sixteen children in the class were peers in preschool and already knew each other and had already formed social bonds before kindergarten began.

Who knows how friendships and bonds form at the age of five? Perhaps there was some initial chemistry between RG and BIP on the first days of kindergarten. However, as two children who found themselves as the outsiders in an already existing social group, there were powerful forces pushing the little girls toward forming a friendship.

The other interesting part of the equation is that BIP is the daughter of a billionaire. Her daddy’s name does not start with Bill or Paul or Warren, but he is someone who is probably on a first name basis with those people. Pictures indicate that her mother is quite beautiful. Other information indicates that she is a younger second wife and a former ambassador.

In any case, the mommies regard RG’s close attachment to BIP with some misgivings, and have been trying to get RG to extend her social horizons. Other children from her kindergarten class have been invited over to the mommies’ house for “playdates.”