Which leads us to what I once called The Fuzzy Bunny Problem. The fuzzy bunny problem from the point of view of adults is: how do you introduce an innocent child to the Existential Dilemma?

If your child is not kidnapped and forced to become a child soldier, or raised in a concentration camp; if you don’t abuse your child or allow your child to watch television or nasty movies or read nasty books, what do you do about the bubble of innocence?

Do you, as a parent, puncture it on purpose? “Hi, kid, now that you’re six years old…POP! Sorry about that kid; we just thought it was time.”

Or do you let your child go to school wearing her bubble of innocence and let the other children poke holes in it?

“Welcome home from kindergarten, kid. Oh, I see the other children wiped out your bubble of innocence. Sorry about that. We were meaning to get around to puncturing it ourselves, but Mom and I are very busy, you know, so we never got around to it. I’m sure the other children were very kind about it….”

Oh, dear blog reader, no one wiped out your bubble of innocence yet? Oh, dear. Please close the blog and read no further. This is a disillusioned-adults-only blog. I guess I should have put a warning label on it.

No, don’t have your attorney call me in the morning. I know a very good attorney; he won a big lawsuit for us; you don’t really want to have him wipe out your attorney’s bubble of innocence.

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Four year old children are narcissistic personalities. As parents and grandparents, it’s our job to help them grow out of that stage of their personality so they can grow into normal neurotic adults, rather than monsters. Random Granddaughter’s best friend, Mia, is possibly a young genius and has an authoritarian personality to boot; I hope Mia’s parents can convince her to keep her boots on the ground and not aimed at your grandchildren’s butts; I am hoping Mia will become no more than an awful boss and not a dictator by the time she grows up.

RG would make a brilliant con woman; I hope that Mommy and Mama can convince her to limit her predatory activities to convincing someone to marry her and do her bidding and support her in the lifestyle to which she wants to become accustomed. Before reaching the age of five, she has discovered consumerism as a possible road to happiness. Yesterday, she decided to practice skills on me that she will someday aim at a partner with deadly skill and efficiency.

I spent yesterday babysitting my granddaughter. It was a tumultuous day, though not a cataclysmic one. I think I was able to achieve a draw. Of course, she is four and I am 64, so I think the odds were about even. I will be pretty busy for a day or two; I will tell you about RG and Grandpa at the zoo as soon as I can. For now, I will tell you it was a zoo at the zoo and while RG was testing meto see if I was napping on the job, I did not fall asleep at the wheel.

I think I still have my wallet, but I better check just to be sure.

It was a very busy day. My one day with RG will probably produce at least a week’s worth of RG posts.

Apparently, Random Granddaughter has become the official cell phone notifier. “Hello,” the phone told me this morning, “We will be on the 11:30 ferry.”The family stopped at the house. We had lunch, leaving tea to serve as dinner. RG built a perilous tower out of blocks that never fell. She played stair monster with her mommies. Sometimes making monster noise from behind the curtain that keeps heat from rising in winter; other times screaming in pleased terror when they make monster noises from behind the curtain. After a while, I asked her to come over to the chair where I was sitting. I looked deep into her eyes: “I am the stare monster,” I told her.

She brought two dollies with her to the “Baby Doll” tea: Sarah, a china doll about 6 inches high, and Brown Baby Rosie, a doll that integrates RG’s doll family. (I don’t know if Rosie is related to the Obama family dolls or not.)

Two groups were at the tea shop when we arrived. One consisted of three adults; I presume their presence was a coincidence. One mother brought Maurina (who turned out to be four, though she was as big as RG, who is quite big for her age and Rosalina, six years old. Another family arrived after us with Macy, a cute little girl with a fashionable flip haircut. Introvert RG was very shy and reluctant to approach the other little girls.

As the adults chose tea, RG selected hot chocolate. The tea came with cream and sugar cubes. A bit to my surprise, the mommies let RG take a sugar cube and put it in her mouth. The tea shop gives each child one tiny teacup for the dolls; they get to keep the teacup. RG had brought her own highchair for the dolls; she put them side by side. She poured some water as “tea” and placed the cup and a sugar cube in front of the dolls.

After a while RG picked up the second sugar cube; it began to approach her mouth. Rosalina, evidently a child well-indoctrinated in the evils of sugar, walked over to our table and politely told RG that the sugar cube was only for the dolls and she shouldn’t put it in her mouth. RG regarded the child’s advice with the same polite interest she might have displayed if Sylvie (her family’s small cat) had started to give her instructions on table manners.

RG poured herself some hot chocolate, filling the cup perilously full. I regarded her adventures with the hot chocolate with the same watchful interest as I had earlier observed her tower building with the blocks. The result was similar; disaster seemed to threaten at every moment, but no accidents occurred. Is this an indication of RG’s life to come?

The waitress brought two saucers with balls of butter and jam, one for the mommies at their table and another for RG, Grandma, and me at our table. RG was obviously considering eating some butter and jam directly. Mommy (birth mother) told her that a) she should wait for scones to arrive and b) share the spreads with Grandma and Grandpa.

I could tell by the expression on RG’s face that she considered this a difficult philosophical problem that merited deep thought. While she was still pondering, scones and finger sandwiches arrived. Mommy explained that the procedure for dealing with a scone was to break up the scone and apply the spreads to the different portions.

RG had acquiesced on sharing the spreads; at this point her inner food serving artist took command. In action, she communicated: this is not how I serve and consume scones. She spread jam on top of the scone, then placed a ball of butter on top of the jam, contemplating the creation with the judicious eye of an experienced craftswoman. Everyone else regarded her work with silent awe. With a look of All right, I will go a little way toward your sensibilities, RG then mashed the butter into the jam and spread it on top of the jam, and then began to eat the scone with serious attention and concentration.

RG is finally beginning to learn to eat a meal. She ate all her finger sandwiches in a methodical way, except for the tuna sandwich. I learned that RG does not do tuna.

The meal ended with white cupcakes with jelly beans on top. RG worked her way through the cupcake; some of it splashed over herself and the chair. She completed dessert by eating the jelly beans. All and all, however, her table manners and savoir faire were excellent for a child of almost five years old.

As a shy introvert, RG held back from approaching the other children, though she regarded them from time to time with sly curiosity. At the end of the meal, Maurina and then Rosalina approached RG, showed her their dolls and engaged in a little conversation.

She held back quite a bit and regarded them shyly and did not contribute much to the conversation.

As an introvert myself, I am quite lacking in skills such as making small talk, though over the years I have gone from about 10% skill to perhaps 20% skill. It’s not like color blindness or deafness; it’s a skill that can be learned. I think it would be useful for the mommies to pay some attention to this as she grows up and teach her how to function a bit as an extrovert in a world where extroverts set much of the agenda.

After the tea, Mrs. Random talked a bit with the owner. In the years since the tea shop has opened, it has gone through three owners. The current owner is planning to try and sell it in January. She has found it to be exhausting work. Even in the current environment of financial panic, deathly to espresso stands and restaurants as they are such obvious places for people noticing financial calamity likely to fall upon them to cut back, the tea shop has been getting quite a bit of business. The owner finds that unless she works herself to death, she loses the money she might make by hiring help.

RG  and I went outside. She had been a little subdued by the end of the meal, but she perked up and talked about playing tag and showed me how Rosie could stand by herself. Eventually the mommies came out. They played London Bridge with RG, but after some excitement, the falling bridge bonked her nose and she dissolved in tears for a few minutes.

On the way home in the car, she looked exhausted and complained that her stomach hurt. The mommies dropped us at our car in the supermarket parking lot; and decided to stop in the market before heading for the ferry. The last we saw was RG running again.

I will spend tomorrow night at the Barely Extended Family’s house in the city and take care of her tomorrow as the mommies have to work and her preschool is closed.

I hope she has recovered by then. As I’ve mentioned before, adults are often oblivious to how hard small children work.

Working on it.

October 23, 2008

I can’t talk about it here, but David paid one of his premiums early, which is excellent.

I am working on the story of how I met my wife, but other events compete for my attention at the moment, so I don’t have an estimated time of arrival. Also, I will be taking care of Random Granddaughter next week and having a colonoscopy next week, though not at the same time, though I am sure that RG would find it an educational field trip of great interest to attend.

I arrived a few minutes late at the little house in the medium sized city, but not catastrophically late.It only took my little introvert granddaughter about one minute to decide she knows her grandfather and greet me. She asked me if I wanted to see her babies. I said, “Yes.” She took me into the library and introduced me to her babies. She laid her dollies in a row on the floor and covered each one with a blanket. She then handed me a page from the New York Times and invited me to read it.

What was going on? I wondered.

Mommy (birth mother and my daughter’s partner) was cooking some clam shell noodles. She put out a dish of peas and some cheese sauce. She told RG and me that she and Mama (Random Daughter) were heading for the library book sale and that as soon as the timer went off we should drain the noodles, add the peas and cheese sauce, and have dinner. She pointed to a bag of small gingersnap cookies that RG could have for dessert.

With a little help from me, RG finished preparing dinner. She added the peas. I added the cheese sauce, spilling some, but I wiped what I spilled up, escaping RG’s disapproval. I mixed the slop vigorously with a wooden spoon.

I dished it into two bowls. I asked her how many gingersnap cookies she wanted. She took eight. That was a lot, but they were small cookies and I decided they were within the allowable limits, especially when RG is being babysat by Grandpa.

We sat down at the table. RG put the cookies aside and said, “First I am going to eat dinner.” Then she ate all of the noodles like a normal person, with no whining, meltdowns, or other drama queen theatrics. She then ate all of her cookies except two. She put one cookie at Mommy’s place and one cookie at Mama’s place.

What was going on? I wondered.

After dinner, I asked her what she wanted to do. RG said, “I want to go outside. I am going to ride my bicycle.”

She put on her clogs and went outside. “Where is my bicycle?” she asked. “Oh, it’s under the cover,” she answered herself. The little house is being remodeled (new windows, new door, and some repairs) and repainted. The usual conglomeration of stuff in the fenced yard was under a tarp to protect it from paint. With my help she got her bicycle with training wheels out from under the tarp and rode it up and down the concrete path where she is allowed to ride without a helmet. As she rode she crooned softly to herself, a mixture of singing, talking, and humming. Nothing seemed to be required of me but just being around, so I watched her quietly. Then she got down from the bicycle; I put it back under the tarp, and she said, “OK, I am ready to go to bed.”

What was going on? I wondered.

Here are the best answers I have (though not very good).

The babies and the newspaper. Later, Mommy explained to me that at RG’s new pre-school, which is smaller, and run by a mom (who is a licensed Montessori teacher) out of her house, at naptime the children lie down on mats on the floor to take a nap while the teacher reads the newspaper. RG now lays all her babies down on the floor and reads a newspaper while they take a nap.

I said to Mommy, “RG is now reading a little. The New York Times is still a little heavy reading material for her. It would be better if you produced a little newspaper for her each day at  her reading level.”

For example, Sylvie went outside. Sylvie stayed in the yard.

[Sylvie, the mommies’ very sweet little black and white cat gets to go out in the yard for a little while. She is pretty good about staying inside, but everyone has to keep an eye on her, as she will sneak out if you are not watching. It is a big news day when she doesn’t try to sneak out.]

Mommy, replied, “Yes, that would be a good idea if I had lots of time.”

Eating dinner without a meltdown. Damned if I know. Is she just happier and better adjusted with her new, more personal day care/preschool? Is she just growing up?

The nighttime bicycle ride. As far as I can figure out, this is how little introvert Random Granddaughter processes the day’s events before she goes to bed. Note to RG’s future spouse: when she goes for a five-mile bicycle ride before bedtime, just let her go with it. She will be a much better bed companion if you let her get her ya yas out with a bit of exercise before she retires.

 

I don’t know where David’s post is that describes an experience on his road to crippling stage fright. I believe it took place while he was in high school or shortly thereafter.

I am sad to say that Random Granddaughter at the age of 4 also had a traumatic experience with stage fright. I don’t know if this will cripple her for life or not. I will be seeing her and taking care of her this afternoon and early evening, allowing her mommies to go to a large library book sale. This will provide me a chance to see how she is doing.

I will relate how this lamentable experience took place, and my role (over which I now feel quite guilty) in precipitating it.

A few weeks ago, when Mrs. Random and I were day sitting RG for a week, we took her to the library. I’ve described how she often picks out books that strike her adults as inappropriate in terms of age or subject matter, and how when she gets home she seems to have no idea why she picked out a particular book. I decided we should address this situation and introduce her to the phenomenon of literary criticism and book reviews.

We were in the children’s section of the library. I said to RG, “Sometimes you pick out books and then you don’t want them after we bring them home. How are you going to choose books you will actually want to read after you bring them home?”

RG replied, “I look at the pictures.” She then picked up a book and flipped through the pages to demonstrate to me.

I was not entirely reassured. I decided to supplement her choices with some choices of my own. As she began to gather books, I also began to gather books. I picked up several, but one book in particular struck me favorably: Brave Irene by William Steig.

After many years as a successful cartoonist for adults, Steig started a second career in his 60s as an author and artist working in children’s books. Among his many great successes was the book, Shrek, which formed the basis of a series of animated films.

When I read Brave Irene to RG, it was an immediate hit. Irene’s mother, a seamstress, sews a gorgeous gown for a Duchess to wear to a ball. Mom is sick, however, and unable to deliver the gown in time for the ball. Irene tucks her mother into bed, brings her some tea, and tells her she will deliver the gown through the snow storm which has just started.

The book tells how Irene struggles through the storm even though the wind rips the box containing the dress out of her hands and she falls into the snow. Bravely continuing even though she has sprained her ankle, Irene sees the lighted mansion, slides down the hill, finds the gown wrapped around a tree, and delivers the dress. The grateful duchess feeds Irene a splendid dinner. Irene then dances with impressive noblemen, who hold her as they swing her around to spare her sprained ankle.

The next morning a doctor accompanies Irene in a sleigh as she is delivered home to her worried mother with a note applauding what a wonderful girl she is which the mother thinks she knows better than anyone.

It’s a charming book combining inspiration about courage and determination with witty humor in subtle comments about class stratification in society.

RG was immediately charmed and asked me to read it to her twice. I then suggested she and I turn it into a dramatic performance for her mommies.

RG has considerable experience with drama. For example, in the incident of the improperly scalloped potatoes, as RG rushed to the bathroom to spit them out of her mouth, Mommy (RG’s birth mother) said as an aside to the other adults, “She’s such a drama queen.” A drama queen is better than a drama duchess, I will have you know.

RG and I rehearsed the play several times. In the rehearsal, she showed particular flair at performing the scene where Irene struggles against the wicked wind, loses the dress, and falls into the deep snow, spraining her ankle.

When the mommies returned from a walk, we began the matinee grand opening performance with the mommies and Grandma sitting on the couch as an audience. After the first scene, where RG tells her mother that she will deliver the gown to the duchess (Grandpa playing the mother not very convincingly), RG went into the hall to prepare for her journey into the storm.

Suddenly Random Granddaughter froze. A look of great distress appeared on her face. She said to me, “I don’t want to.” Words of encouragement from Mommy, Mama (Random Daughter), and Grandma were of no avail. At the age of four, RG had discovered stage fright.

I don’t know if like David she will be unable to participate in public performances ever again. I will see her this afternoon. I am bringing Brave Irene with me again. I don’t know if RG will want to get on the horse that threw her again. I won’t push the point; I will just have the book and let her decide what she wants to do with it, if anything. Growing up is hard work. I don’t know if adults appreciate what a difficult job it is.

 

 

By the time the future Mrs. Random proposed to me [demanded we get married before I got any fresher] and we became engaged to be married, my father was already dead. A few weeks before the wedding, my mother spoke with me privately. “Are you sure WTB [wife to be] isn’t perhaps a little too dainty for you?” she asked me with a concerned look on her face.
 
I was confused by what she meant by dainty and confused over her concern. I thought maybe she was suggesting that my wife to be was too prissy and good-goody to enjoy sex. Perhaps this concern reflected my mother’s state when she got married, though as my mother had grown up on a farm in Indiana with cows and bulls and hens and roosters, she must have known the “facts of life” before her marriage, even if her wedding took place in the late 1930s or early 1940s.
 
On another hand, my aunt Henriette told me that in the early years of my parents’ marriage, my father engaged in several affairs. Perhaps she had been too dainty, or perhaps my father, growing up with three bohemian sisters, was already corrupted by modern life (such as it was around 1940) and expected sex to be more adventurous and daring than he found it in his marital bed.

My parents’ early life is shrouded in mystery to me and I have very little impulse or opportunity to disturb the shroud at this late date.

In any case, when I first met my wife (we were both teenagers, though as an older man I was in junior college while she was still in a high school sharing a drama class with Sally Field—this is true), she was indeed a very prissy goody-goody young woman.
The first time I said a “bad word” in her presence, she firmly told me not to talk that way.

However, she shortly began to rebel against her mother. She wore black slacks, which her mother interpreted as “beatnik” rebellion. The situation escalated until a big fight about my teaching my WTB to drive caused my WTB to throw herself out of her house (a story I will tell at another time).

As a person of strong opinions and strong feelings, my wife gradually discovered that at times she needs strong words to express her feelings. In public, at work (when she had a job) and now as a volunteer at the farmer’s market, she maintains an air of discretion and good taste that fools everyone around her.

At home, Mrs. Goody-Goody has been heard to say, “Oh, shit!” as a project goes astray and “Fuck it!” as the universe refuses to comply with her wishes.

This caused some interesting complications as our daughter prepared to enter kindergarten…

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Breakout

July 23, 2008

From an early age (3), Random Granddaughter has been considering her career options. In reverse order, she seems to lean toward becoming 3) a ferry captain, 2) a railroad engineer, or 1) a fire captain.

Now that she has reached the ripe old age of 4, she seems to be sticking with these career goals. However, I don’t want her to get “pigeonholed” by these fairly narrow and typecast possibilities, which might fall into the category of “feminist stereotypes.” Although she’s not much of a fashion-obsessed person yet, I do think she should consider careers where she might be able to wear pretty, feminine clothes. RG has been known to put on a dress now and then.

My wife and I will be providing daycare for our granddaughter during the last week of August because day camp is ending and her new pre-school (based in the home of one of her mommies’ friends) hasn’t started yet.

I thought I might read to her from Bedside Book of Bad Girls: Outlaw Women of the American West by Michael Rutter, a book I snatched up when I recently came across it in a library.

I was immediately struck by the picture on the cover, showing Anna Emmaline McDoulet and Jennie Stevens. Jennie, better known in her time (1890s) as “Little Britches,” showed a lamentable tendency to dress up in jeans. However, her partner in would-be crime, Anna Emmaline McDoulet, who became better known as “Cattle Annie” after she decided to take a whirl at cattle rustling, poses in the picture wearing a dress while holding a carbine by her side.

RG sometimes gets headed off before she can really get into an activity she would really like to pursue, much as Little Britches was frustrated when after the two desperadoes were pursued by a couple of lawmen, Marshall Bill Tilghman caught up with her after a long chase. Although Little Britches shot at him as he chased her, he was reluctant to shoot a woman, so he shot her horse dead instead.

She was said to have thrown dirt in his face and bit and scratched him, until he finally overpowered her and aggravated beyond all measure, gave her a spanking. (Although our family does not spank, I’m sure RG will identify with Little Britches’ frustration and humiliation.)

Although both young female desperadoes rode with the famous Dalton and Doolin gangs, they had trouble getting the male outlaws to fully accept them. The men had a tendency to let them mend their clothes and do the cooking. By the time they were sixteen, the law authorities were tired of two teenagers’ juvenile delinquency antics and both were sentenced to prison (sent from Kansas to Massachusetts).

Little Britches died of consumption a year after her release, but Cattle Annie settled down and “went straight.” In fact a descendent of her posted the following on a web page:

Cattle Annie was my aunt – she did not remain ‘back east’ after reform school. She returned to Oklahoma, married, had 2 sons (who were mainly raised by their father & paternal grandparents), divorced, traveled with the XIT Wild West Show, remarried, became a devout Christian, devoted wife & very respected member of the community. She remained very active right up to the end. She learned to water ski the summer she was 72 (after having had a broken hip), but had to give it up because it made her ‘too tired’. She went surfing with her great grandson at age 80, because according to her, her grandson was too big a ‘fuddy duddy’. She was truly a remarkable lady. She lived in Oklahoma City up to the time of her death & is buried in Rose Hill Cemetery.

–Ann S.E.

If the mommies don’t want me to read the Cat in the Hat to RG just yet, I suspect that the story of Little Britches and Cattle Annie would go over even less well. I will restrain myself.

RG Picks Strawberries

July 4, 2008

Random Granddaughter and Mommy (my daughter’s Out of Law partner and RG’s birth mother) arrived at 10 am. My daughter (Mama) did not come on this trip. As a teacher, Mommy has summer off; Mama as a wage slave has to be at work. (She is saving vacation for the coming trip back east to Virginia to see Mommy’s parents and to Colorado to meet dad’s partner’s parents.
Although I think our instinctive reactions to RG have usually guided us reasonably well in dealing with her in the past, now that we are more aware of her introvert nature, we proceed a little more cautiously and consciously in our dealings with her, and carefully observe her reactions to us.
When she arrived, she handed me a picture she had drawn. After she removed her clogs and entered the house, instead of heading for the blocks or the train, she went to the toy barn, her current favorite toy at our “farm” and had a brief conversation with the farm animals. After talking with farm animals, she felt ready to deal with grandparents.
I asked her what animals she learned about in dinosaur study day camp. “T-Rex and brontosaurus,” she replied. Seemed like a pretty good start in learning about dinosaurs to me. Those are dinosaurs you would want to be able to identify if they visit your neighborhood.

We all trooped outside to inspect the garden. Mrs. Random handed RG a bowl for strawberries. Mrs. Random removed the net covering the strawberries and each of the pickers went down one side of the row. The strawberries were large and succulent in appearance, meeting with RG’s approval.

Some of the strawberries had obviously been nibbled (probably by chipmunks). RG looked dubious. Grandma explained that the nibbled portions can be removed. RG was obviously torn between lust for strawberries and distaste for eating strawberries wildlife had snacked on first.

However, a few of the strawberries had large holes running all the way through the berry. Grandma explained slugs had eaten their way through the berry. RG looked horrified. I don’t know that RG has begun indulging in religious speculations yet (growing up in an irreligious family), but the expression on her face communicated something compatible with the thought: What kind of God would allow this to happen? She tossed the damaged strawberries into the weeds in disgust.

Nevertheless, she was quite happy to find herself with a bowl of decent fresh strawberries in her hand by the time she reached the end of the row. She clutched the bowl firmly and securely all the way back to the house, just in case a slug or perhaps a T-Rex tried to grab it from her before she got the bowl safely inside our little dwelling.

Next: Ducks

 

Watching Manners

May 9, 2008


I had an interesting day taking care of Random Granddaughter. I will write more about it later, but for now a exchange from this morning.

RG was having a “trouble with good manners” morning. Mommy asked her three times to fetch some spoons for everybody at the breakfast table so everyone could eat their cereal. RG ignored her, though eventually enough gentle pressure was exerted that she fetched spoons. Each person received two spoons. I admired RG’s very subtle dig.

“How are the manners at pre-school?” I asked.

RG said, “Pretty good…but the boys don’t have very good manners,” she said.

I started laughing so hard, RG looked alarmed.

Mommy said, reassuringly, “Granddpa is not laughing at you. He just thought you were pointing out something that is true at other places.”

If I can get there in time, I may go watch RG at her swimming lesson tonight.