Dear Random Granddaughter,

Grandma and I are looking forward to seeing you and Mama and Mommy this weekend. I hope you will bring the sketch of the chickens, Big Mama, Moll, and Little Peep, you drew. I hope that Big Mama will lay an egg for you as payment for the commission, but chickens are like cats; they don’t necessarily do what you tell them to do.

I have another commission for you, though this is a research project rather than an art work. It has to do with pets. When Grandma and I were married, we thought about getting a cat, but then we had a baby. We named the baby Random Daughter. Yes, the baby grew into your Mama. We thought both a baby and a cat need a lot of love and attention, so we decided to concentrate on just one at a time. When Mama was about two years old and still learning to talk, she had a babysitter named “Mrs. Nagy.” Mrs. Nagy was French and she had several cats. When the cats played with each other, Miranda thought they were fighting. When we brought her home from a day at the baby sitter, she said to us, “Kitty fight!” Those were some of the first words she said after “Momma” and “Daddy,” and “craggie.” (“Craggie” was how she said, “cracker” when she was first learning to talk.)

When Miranda was older, about 11 or 12 years old, I think, we were living in Portland. We still didn’t have a cat of our own, but a Siamese can who lived across the street came to visit us. There was a famous cartoon at the time about a cat looking like a meatloaf, so we called this cat “meatloaf.”
Mama always wanted a cat when she was a little girl, but because I am allergic to cats we never got one. When Mama and Mommy went to New York, they got two cats of their own: Tommy and Lulu. After Tommy and Lulu died, they got Sebastian and Sylvie. Sylvie is still alive, and may be the sweetest cat in the whole world.

When I was a little boy, we had many different cats. One was named “Twinkletoes.” At first she was kind of mean and scratched us a lot, but after she had kittens, she became much nicer. Later, we had a cat named “Fuzzy Wuzzy.” Fuzzy Wuzzy was not very brave. One day my mother saw a mouse in our compost pile. She brought Fuzzy Wuzzy down to the compost pile and said, “Catch the mouse, Fuzzy Wuzzy.” But Fuzzy Wuzzy saw something running and thought it might be dangerous, so he ran away. My mother was very angry. “Scaredy cat!” she said.

When Grandmother Christina was small her family had a dog, named “George,” and a cat, named “Perry.” She thought Perry was her special friend. When she felt sick and stayed home from school, Perry stayed in bed with her and comforted her.

Now we are wondering, what kinds of pets should we have? We have chickens. The chickens are a lot of fun, and they talk to us, and they lay eggs. On the other hand, they are not very cuddly, they don’t sit in our laps, and they don’t purr. Also, they are difficult to house train, but perhaps there is a special kind of litter box for chickens.

Both Grandma and I are somewhat allergic to cats, but we both like cats. There is a kind of cat called a “Siberian” cat which is supposed to be better for people who are allergic to cats. Should we get a Siberian cat?

It is rather dangerous for cats where we live. There are animals such as coyotes and raccoons that might eat a cat if we get it. There are birds such as eagles, owls, and hawks that might be dangerous for cats as well.

Perhaps we should think about getting a dog? We have some friends, Bill and Sherine, who have a big, brave fierce dog called an Akita dog. This kind of dog would probably be too strong and fierce for coyotes or raccoons to hurt it. Perhaps it could protect the chickens against any animal that would want to eat them. However, the dog would have to be convinced not to eat the chickens.

This is very complicated. Perhaps you have some ideas about what would be the best pets for grandparents to have. Perhaps we should just stick with our three chickens? What do you think?



Hello, my name is Random Granddaughter (you may call me “RG” for short) and I am here to present my grandparents’ three hens in this year’s County Fair “Chicken Olympics.” A few years ago, my grandparents attended a “Cat Olympics” at that year’s fair. My crazy Grandpa once asked me if my little cat Sylvie was doing what I told her to do, and I replied, “Kitty cats don’t do what you tell them to do.”

He said that showed I was very smart for a four year old girl to realize that. However, now he thinks his chickens will do what I tell them to do. That’s why I call him my “Crazy Grandpa.”

Anyway, Grandpa was not surprised when one of the cats went to sleep when it was asked to jump through a hoop.

OK, here are my grandparents’ chickens. First, I will present “Big Mama.” She lets me pick her up and pet her! She is a very smart chicken. Second she is eating lots of her very healthy well-balanced multi-grain chicken food. She is growing very big and strong and healthy.

Second I will present “Moll.” Moll is an excellent jumper. She will jump up on this table to get some oats. She thinks oats are like chicken candy.Moll has a lot of attitude. Little girl, sitting in the front row, please come up and hold out your hand to Moll. Look, she will peck you very hard! Little girl, you can stop crying now. How old are you? Four? Well, you should be a big girl now, and not cry so much just because a chicken pecked your finger. Well, maybe when you are six years old like me, you won’t be such a little crybaby.

Finally, I will present “Little Peep.” Little Peep is an introvert and does not like people looking at her. That is why she is hiding in the corner. Little Peep is also an omnivore. She especially likes meat. She is also an excellent hunter. She catches a lot of imaginary bugs. Look at her running around the stage pecking at imaginary bugs!

But I also brought her some real bugs. Perhaps some of the children in the audience would like to help me feed bugs to Little Peep. Here, hold out your hand, and I will put some “rolly pollies” in your hand. My grandpa says they’re called “sow bugs.” Now here are some ants. And here are some termites. Grandma gets very excited when she sees them around the house, so she is very happy when she sees Little Peep eating termites. And here is an earwig–Little Peep thinks they are especially good–look how she gobbles it up!

All the chickens like clover a lot also. Because they have been such good chickens, I am going to give them a bunch of clover leaves. Grandpa says to me, “Look how the chickens eat all these different foods, RG. You should stop being so fussy about your food and try a little of everything.”

Did I mention before that I consider him my Crazy Grandpa. I have five grandmas and four grandpas, but he is the only really crazy one.

Flavors of Empathy

August 10, 2010

Recently, Mama (our daughter) and Mommy (her out of law partner) celebrated their 18th sort of being married anniversary.

As we are the nearest grandparents (geographically speaking), we were invited to the celebration. We celebrated with lunch and dinner. At lunch, Mommy served vegetable frittatas. Random Granddaughter made faces. Mommy insisted she eat it. She ate it slowly, continuing to make faces, but eat it she did. RG is slowly joining the land of adult life, where we do things we don’t want to do, politely.

Mommy told me that my daughter had not passed her exam in graduate level statistics. (I checked with Mommy because I figured my daughter did not want to talk about it.) She has to retake the year of graduate work. However, there is another Masters degree program, with a slightly different name, she can probably complete if she does not succeed with the one she is in at present. My daughter is getting older, but I think she can still land on her feet.

RG has been taking piano lessons. Mommy, her birth mother, studied violin at Oberlin, with the intention of becoming a concert violinist, but decided to get a life instead of becoming a musician. RG, currently planning on becoming a painter, has decided to study violin instead of becoming a pianist. Undoubtedly, she will have many lives.

Mommy also told me that RG is having trouble developing consideration and empathy for the feelings of others. She described a visit from a friend which turned into arguments, door-slamming, and sulking in her room.

At dinner, the mommies served salmon. Food fusser RG likes salmon. However, half way through her meal, she began asking about the life cycle of salmon. Then she said, “It bothers me that we eat the salmon we catch as they return to lay their eggs.” Apparently, RG is developing empathy, but for fish instead of human beings.

However, when I told the story to Mrs. Friendly Neighbor, she said (as always an optimist and always a person who looks for the best in others) she said, “She is working on her priorities, and getting it all sorted out. She will get there.”

As we were talking about this, the Friendly Neighbors had a guest, Wayne, the team leader of the “wood ministry” from their church. Wayne is a former Marine and fairly expert on fire arms.

Wayne and Mrs. Friendly Neighbor discussed raccoons and their depredations on chickens. “We were driving by the beach and we saw FIVE raccoons,” she said in disgust. She and Wayne then discussed the best weapons and ammunition to use in shooting raccoons. Raccoons lack empathy for chickens. Mrs. Friendly Neighbor said, about chickens, “They are so curious, they will walk up to a raccoon, apparently to say, “Here I am. Eat me.” Mrs. Friendly Neighbor does not have much empathy for raccoons.

In some places and times, the world is divided up into paupers and aristocrats. RG, while not quite a pauper, is closer to the paupers than the artistocrats, but getting closer and closer to the aristocrats. As it is dangerous to talk about aristocrats where their  guards might hear, I will continue in email with some trivial and boring gossip about the aristocrats of her world and my world.

Slaters

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.

http://soilbugs.massey.ac.nz/isopoda.php

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 3 of International Relations and Relationships)

We invited Mary to visit Mommy and Mama at their house. We talked about how complicated family visits are. In RG’s case she has to fly to Virginia to see Grandma and Step-Grandfather and Grandpa and Step-Grandma. Let’s not even get into Dad’s Mom in Oregon, or co-Dad’s Mom and Step-Dad in Colorado.

Mary’s family is even more complicated. She flies to England to visit one sister, who is working on a doctorate (in statistics!) at the University of Salamanca, in Spain. (It’s a small world; my cousin Valerie also lives in Salamanca, Spain, where she is a chiropractor, when not taking care of her chiropractor dad in Australia.)

Mary is the youngest girl in her family, though she and her four sisters have a little brother, who works in Brazil. As he was growing up, their Mom said, “All your sisters have advanced degrees, so you have to at least get a Master’s Degree.”[ Brother is doing some kind of research in Brazil having to do with automobiles.]

“Do you speak Portuguese?” I asked Mary?

“No, I don’t, and now my brother speaks Spanish with such a Portuguese accent I can hardly understand him.”

Her sister, the child psychiatrist, is back in Peru (after working for a while in Mexico), where she is now studying Alzheiner’s Disease. “My sister watches everybody so carefully, everyone is afraid she is analyzing us all the time,” said Mary.

Her other sister is a nurse. “She has to work awful hours. She is often at the hospital all night.”

Mary has become an American citizen. She probably qualified because her heritage is all mixed up like Americans’ heritage. Her grandparents on one side were Italian, so she grew up eating spaghetti all the time and hearing her grandma babble in Italian. (Her grandfather came to Peru as an engineer to help build railroads and then stayed.)

“Were some of your ancestors Indian?” I asked her. Mary looks like what I think an Inca woman would look like to me. “No, I don’t think so,” she replied.

Later, my wife said to me, “People in different countries have different terms for native peoples, so she probably thought you were asking if her ancestors were from (East) India.

(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.

Anyway…

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.