Ah, the monkey suit. I love it! I think it is downright adorable. However, I'm not so sure the kiddos have such a high opinion of it. Poor Liam wore it for his first Halloween. Lots of photos were taken, with nary a one showing a happy little camper. This is my absolute favorite picture of Liam in his monkey suit, Halloween 2010. The jack o'lanterns are grinning, but not our Liam, bless him.
His only consolation is that all subsequent siblings must also don the little monkey suit so that he's not the only baby humiliated at Halloween. And so, this year was Miss Charlotte's turn to wear the wooly cap and over-sized feet, Halloween 2013. A pink bow was added, giving it just the right touch, don't you think?
So now we have a matching set: Monkey One and Monkey Two. I'm sure these pictures will cause embarrassment for years to come. Tee-hee. Such sweet little primates!
Do I really need to defend children's books? I think not. And neither does the New York Public Library. But its current exhibition, The ABC of It: Why Children's Books Matter, goes a long way in reminding us of how dear the books of our childhood are to us and how they shape our love of language, rhyme, storytelling, and pictures.
The exhibition path leads from early primers through classics, bright picture books, intricate pop-ups, mass series like Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys, comic books - mostly English and American, but many international examples are on display, as well.
When I was there most of the visitors were adults, not children, and to be honest, the set-up is more museumesque than Disneyfied, though many of the displays are darn clever. Delightful discovery, or rather rediscovery, seemed to be the dominant vibration. I was certainly like a kid in a candy store as I found old friends, some long-forgotten. And it was wonderful to see bits of original manuscripts or illustrations-in-progress.
The exhibition certainly gave me ideas of books that Liam and Charlotte simply must have. Some were favorites of mine when I was little. Some were favorites of their mama's. And some were new to me. Oh, yes. I took notes.
Watching all the (mostly) adults' reactions to finding childhood favorites, remembering when and where they were when they read them, it was easy to understand why children's books matter. Those books have such an emotional appeal. Kinda made me want to check out a stack of kids' books and reclaim them.
But as enjoyable as that might be, children's books are meant to be shared with a child, read aloud, with heartfelt discussions about the story and pictures. And don't we all add little twists to those cherished stories - funny voices, maybe an extra line or two that makes it our own?
Why do children's books matter? Because sharing stories and building memories matter. Because silly, outrageous, creative, scary, funny, sad, delightful stuff matters. Because common truths matter. Because Alice, Pooh, Max, Madeline, Harry, Charlotte, and Hungry Caterpillar matter. Because storytelling, story-reading, story-remembering, and story-passing-on-to-future-generations matter.
Happy Grandparents Day! Yes, I get it. It's another made-up Hallmark card holiday. But it comes as a reminder to me about my own grandparents and how different their lives were than mine as a grandparent.
I'm in the middle of putting together a family album for my own grandchildren, so I've been immersed in pictures and stories of my grandparents, as well as of my parents as grandparents to my daughter. It was my experience that even that one generational change from people born in the late 19th century to those born in the early 20th century altered the way grandparents relate to their children's children.
Now, maybe this is just the way my family played it, since I know many people my age who had very touchy-feely grandparents. I, however, did not. Yes, there was a greeting - a kiss, a hug - though most of the time I was the one urged on to hug/kiss. The child had to make the first dutiful move. It was always perfunctory. I was never grabbed up, swung around, and smothered with kisses. And to be honest, I think that would've freaked me out.
That is not to say that my grandparents didn't love me. I never doubted that. They just showed love in different ways than I do with Liam and Charlotte or that Mother and Daddy did with Kate. I do think it's telling that I don't have any photos of me with any of my grandparents. There may be some somewhere, but I don't have them or remember seeing them. But, here is what I remember, without the aid of pictures.
I got to watch Grandmother (Frazier) wring a chicken's neck, prepare the bird, and serve up some of the best fried chicken ever - which probably took away any fear I might've had of eating dead animals (long live carnivores!) at an early age. She was a hard-working farm woman who never sat with us at the table, but on a stool away from us near the stove so that she could jump up and replenish any little bite we'd eaten. She was out of bed before I was and went to bed after me. I'm not convinced she ever slept. She always looked old. And I always gave her Jergens Lotion for Christmas. She made the quilt that's on my bed right now. She lived to the ripe old age of 93 (1900-1993).
Daddy Rob (Frazier) kept us giggling with his side comments (usually about Grandmother) and always had some little something on hand that he knew we loved, like a kitten for my sister Cindy. He was a hard-working farmer. I remember lots of times sitting on the front porch of the farmhouse with him - sometimes talking, sometimes not. He was a quiet man with a wicked sense of humor. He had a hacking smoker's cough and rolled his own cigarettes. He, too, was out of bed before the rest of us. He let us ride his old horse Dan, and we loved every minute of it. He always looked old. And I remember when we were driving from his funeral to the cemetery, farmers along the way stopped their tractors and took off their hats as we passed.
Mama, which is what we called Mother's mother, probably because that's what our mother and aunts called her, took time to sit with me to sound out words in a little reader. Thanks to her, I knew at a very early age the difference between "our" and "hour." To be honest, I was too far down her grandchild-list to have been one of her favorites. She had four daughters who gave her eight grandchildren. I was number 5, plus a girl, so by the time I came on the scene she just wasn't that into it. (That said, she did highly favor my cousin Steve, who was born a few months after me.) I remember being a little afraid of her. She was strong, strong, strong and people rarely crossed her. She died around the time of my 16th birthday.
I'd love to tell you about my grandfather, George Warren Bartow, but I don't have much to offer. He was out of Mama's house by the time I was born. It came as a shock to me when I was 7 or 8 years old and some man turned up at a family gathering at Aunt Peggy's house who was introduced as my grandfather. It never occurred to me that I had a grandfather on that side of the family. I guess little me assumed that Mama had created and raised those girls alone. Anyway, I do know that he was - what? - 1/2 Cherokee. He was a quiet, loving man (as told by my Aunt Nell), but he coped with his life with my strong grandmother by drinking. I remember going to his graveside service when he died, but I'm not sure how old I was - early teens, maybe.
Mother and Daddy were totally different grandparents. They were hands-on, huggy-kissy, spoil-'em-rotten grandparents. They unabashedly loved every minute of being with their five grandchildren. We have lots of happy, active pictures of the children with Mother and Daddy. Pictures like Daddy reading to a lapful of little children to Mother and little Kate at a Braves baseball game. They were present. And I know that Kate will have many more stories to tell about them than I have to tell of my own grandparents.
So, yes, Happy Grandparents Day. Especially to my own grandparents and to my parents who showed me how it should be done. I hope you all are celebrating the lives of your children, grand- , great-grand, and great-great-grandchildren as you look down from your heavenly homes.
So much has been written about over-scheduling our children and the pressure on time and talent we put on them by constantly running them to soccer or piano lessons. These pressures seem to start younger and younger. But I do think that there are three essential skills we should be teaching as early as possible.
In order to survive in the world (and I do mean survive), a child needs to:
Learn how to swim. I believe that this is the most important skill you can teach a young child. As soon as the little one is old enough to hit the water, start getting him used to putting his face and head into the wet stuff without causing panic. I know that there are techniques that teach infants how to rise to the top and stay afloat. Not sure how well those methods work, but don't leave it too late to hit the YMCA or local swimming class.
Learn his/her name, address, phone number. Children are great at learning their first and last names (usually with the middle one thrown in) early. Toddler ego demands it. But once children have a basic knowledge of numbers (1, 2, 3, 4, 5 - not algebra or trig), they can learn to string them together correctly for addresses and phone numbers. Little kids are wizards at rote memorization, so while they're learning "Twinkle, twinkle little star," toss in "324 Oak Street" and "555-231-9876."
Learn how to use 911 properly. After they've mastered name/address/phone number, it might be time for 911 training, though a child needs some maturity to understand when dialing 911 is appropriate (and the dire repercussions involved if they dial it as a joke). There are too many stories of 4- and 5-year-olds who have saved the lives of a parent or sibling because they knew when and how to call 911.
So before you sign your precious darling up for ballet or football, make sure s/he can swim. Really. If the child is old enough to point and flex or kick a ball, it's old enough to hit the pool. And be aware of when little honey boo-boo is mature enough to use 911. The life she saves may be yours.
The first year of life is full of milestones - reaching various heights/weights, smiling, rolling over, first words, first steps - but to this GrandMary one of the most important of these is receiving a precious baby into the household of God through baptism. Surrounded by her parents and big brother, grandparents and godparents, friends and her church family, Charlotte was baptized August 4 at All Saints' Episcopal Church in Atlanta. August seems to be a baptism tradition in the family now, since her
mother and big brother Liam were baptized in August of their birth
Wearing her mother's christening gown and sweet little cap, she took all the excitement in stride. Liam and godfather Mikey brought her banner down the aisle during the procession. Both looked so handsome. Parents and godparents called out "We present Charlotte Currin to receive the sacrament of baptism!" loud and proud. Charlotte managed to hold down the coos and other baby noises during the sermon, hymns, and GrandMary's reading of the Prayers of the People.
She kept her cool throughout the water on her head and oil on her forehead and as her parents, godparents, and church family promised to guide her spiritual growth. (We will, with God's help!) And, of course, she was adorable as Godmother Lindsey walked her up and down the aisles so that the congregation could get a good look at its newest member.
After the service, the Wilkes family hosted a lovely, lively reception brunch, where Miss Charlotte held court. Adults and children were in a celebratory mood, welcoming this new little life into God's family. It was a day of memories and plans for the future, sweet generous gifts, and a reminder that we're all part of something bigger.
So, Charlotte, we receive you into the household of God. Welcome!
I've spent the weekend building a memory book of my time with Liam in May and June. We were joined at the hip in the last couple of weeks before Baby Charlotte was born and for several weeks afterward. Oh, the adventures we had! Swimming, exploring, coloring, creating - never a dull moment.
Since I left my Liam-duties behind over a month ago, I find I've missed him like crazy. Those 3-year-olds find a way to burrow deep into your heart, even when you're plain tuckered out trying to keep up with them.
It seemed a good weekend to collect photos of that sweet time and put them in a book for posterity. Or for Liam, if he chooses to keep the book after I'm long gone. I got to relive our trips to the Center for Puppetry Arts, Atlanta Botanical Garden, various parks and indoor activity spots, his swim lessons, and, of course, that sweet day he got to meet his baby sister.
I made this particular book via Snapfish, but I also use Shutterfly and Picaboo (whichever one is giving the best online discount at the time). I find I have to be in the right mood to create my books because it does take time to organize the pictures on the pages and remember the events and places for the text. I will say that it's so much easier to fashion lovely memory books with these online programs. Gone are the days of sticking photos into scrapbooks with those little gummed corners.
Reliving my weeks with Liam made the whole exercise of uploading photos, choosing which ones to use, and sorting them in a sensible manner worthwhile. Now, to start a book for Charlotte!
Everybody needs a good travelin' song. Seems Liam and I have hit upon ours.
Who knows why, but every time we'd climb into the car, buckle up, and pull out of the
driveway or a parking lot, I'd start singing "Off we go into the wild blue yonder!" No reason, really. The song just popped into my head as a sort of "on to the next adventure" theme.
It caught on. Liam picked up on it right away, even though I only know the first and last lines of the thing. Mostly, I just loudly la-di-da'd my way through it, showing my age by singing the final "nothing can stop the Army Air Corps." (Now it's "nothing can stop the US Air Force," by the way.) I freely admitted to GrandBoy that I didn't know the words, since he wasn't fooled by all the la-di-da stuff after such a great first line.
"You don't know all the words, right, GrandMary?"
"No, Liam, I don't. Let's look them up on the computer when we get home."
But for lots of reasons (not the least of which is that I'm beyond learning all those fightin' words at this late stage), even after watching several YouTube renditions, neither of us could get beyond "Off we go into the wild blue yonder, flying high into the sun, la-di-da-da-etc., nothing can beat the Army Air Corps!" Still, it suits us just as it is.
We needed a good traveling song for the adventures we had, none of which involved the wild blue yonder, I might add. The Atlanta Botanical Garden, Legoland, The Center for Puppetry Arts, the neighborhood swimming pool and park, more parks, trips to Target to buy new coloring books, to the YMCA for swimming lessons. Well, we were busy, so in a sense, we were into the wild blue yonder, and our travelin' song captured our enthusiasm whenever we hit the road.
The wild blue yonder. Make of it what you will, it's a heck of a way to travel. Even with the la-di-da parts.
We no longer have a newborn. She's a full-fledged baby now, growing and thriving. We can't imagine our lives without you, sweet girl. And I think your big brother has done a loving job of making you welcome. Happy One Month Birthday!
She arrived today at 4:35pm, all 7lbs/4oz, 20 inches of her and is now the fourth family member born on the 21st of the month. Big brother Liam (2/12), GrandMary (4/21), and great uncle Bill (11/21) are all lucky 21's.
Countdown to Baby Charlotte's appearance. No, she's not here yet, but she is fully baked, and her mama would love the opportunity to hold her in her arms at this point. Today? Maybe tomorrow? Definitely Tuesday.
Everything's ready, sugar. You have the cutest little nursery-nook. Big brother Liam has big plans for you, and those can't commence until you come out into the light. And we all want to meet you. Now, come on and give your tired, weighted-down mama a break.
But for everyone else: Do keep mama and soon-to-be daughter in your thoughts and prayers over the next few days and hours. We'll let you know as soon as there's news to tell.
Entertaining a three-year-old isn't really that hard, but you'd better have a lot of tricks up your sleeve. If one trick doesn't work - or doesn't work for long- then pull out the next one. Just keep things moving.
Somehow I think if we did the exact same list of things tomorrow, GrandBoy would find it entertaining. When we run out of Ninja Turtle coloring pages, we'll find something else to color. The bubble-snake thing won't run out until the dish soap and food coloring do. And dirt and sticks never run out at the park. See? Not so complicated.
After a day of dirt and sticks and crayons and bubbles, GrandBoy's in bed, plum tuckered out. And GrandMary's tuckered out, too. I will say, however, that my coloring skills are improving with every Ninja Turtle picture. I take direction well from a 3-year-old. Good practice for my dotage, me thinks.
Daughter, GrandBoy, and I were enjoying a spring evening chowing down al fresco on deliciousness from the Crawfish Shack, when Liam spotted a spider web. As conversations turn with any 3-year-old, the spider web provided several minutes of in-depth discussion focusing on good vs bad, pretty vs scary, and spider web vs Spider-Man web.
Then I chimed in: "I bet we can make a spider web, too. All we need is some string or yarn." Well, you'd thought I'd suggested letting him loose in Toys R Us for an hour. Yes, a good idea, it was decided. We will create our own spider web.
I just let him think that I knew all about making spider webs because, hey, you can find instructions for making anything on Pinterest, right? When we got home I searched Pinterest for how to make a pretend spider web, and sure enough, I found quite a few, believe it or not. I settled on this one because it looked easy to make with handy materials, plus relatively sturdy (it's for a 3-year-old, remember).
By the time we had the time, yarn, and string ready to go, it was raining cats and dogs, so making the spider web outside was not going to happen. We scouted his room - with a stern warning from Daughter to not do anything that would do permanent damage to walls or furniture (yes, Mom) - and decided that the foot of his bed was the perfect place.
Liam watched, handed me string and scissors, and added his two-cents'-worth as I tied and looped and wove a big web at the foot of his bed. Ah, but it wasn't finished until the web had some inhabitants. GrandBoy instructed me repeatedly that the spider had to be a happy spider, not a scary one. Then we decided to make a happy snake, happy butterfly, happy bunny, happy monkey, and happy worm to live in the web with the very happy spider.
Now, the scenario would not be complete without Liam donning his Spider-Man suit. He was now truly the master of his webby domain.
Easter is a hard thing to explain to a little child. Betrayal. Violent death. Sadness. Resurrection. Difficult stuff for adults to grasp, never mind a 3-year-old. I remember trying to tell the Easter story to my daughter when she was little. After the resurrection part, her eyes got big and she said, "Oooh! A ghost story!" Well, yeah, I can see how you'd think that. Hm.
That same daughter now wants to explain to GrandBoy what's happening this week.
There is more to this time of the year than bunnies, duckies, and chocolate eggs (though we love all of them) for us Christians. Yes, we have renewal, springtime, longer and warmer days. How bunnies got connected to eggs, I'll never know, but there's something lovely about baskets, colorful clothes, and little children running around outside seeking magical eggs and jelly beans. But as pretty as this spring ritual is, it's not the reason we honor Easter.
The story of betrayal, crucifixion, and resurrection is central to our faith. But that story is almost impossible to explain to literal-minded toddlers. Christmas is easy. A baby is born. Wise men, shepherds, and angels turn up with gifts and singing. It's Baby Jesus that a little child first comes to love because loving a baby is natural, understandable, literal.
But now comes the part of the story where that sweet babe has grown up and is nailed to a cross. (Yes, honey, that's why we have crosses everywhere . . . Oy.) And then, voila! After three days, the little grown up baby who died brutally, is alive again! Even adults - believers and non-believers - have big problems with all of that; they at least understand more complex concepts of personal sacrifice and salvation and faith. But a little child doesn't have that understanding. It's a literal, hard-edged world for them. Let's face it, bunnies are easier than crosses.
Christian parents struggle with this every year. We want our children to understand the reason for our faith, but that foundation is very hard to explain to a little child without causing trauma and nightmares. Yes, we necessarily soften it up, but even then, it's not an easy thing. All I can say is that we do the best we can, hoping our children eventually move beyond "Oooh! A ghost story!" phase.
If any of you have ways of telling the story or can recommend wonderful children's books that do a commendable job of introducing a little child to the Easter story sans bunnies and duckies, please share. We have both of the books pictured, by the way, and The Best Thing About Easter does gently deal with the Christian Easter story.
In the meantime, we'll do our best to make some headway, knowing that the bunnies and eggs will probably win the day, at least for a few more years. Happy Easter to all!
Are the Jolly Green Giant and the Incredible Hulk related? They are Grandboy's mind. He spied the picture of the Green Giant on a package of broccoli and believing it to be the Hulk, got all excited about the superpowers he could acquire by eating Hulk-sponsored veggies.
Face it. Both guys are big and green. Easy to get them confused, except that one is smiling really big and one looks like he could tear your head off. Still, at a glance, all you're gonna see is big + green.
Now, Liam's pretty good about eating his vegetables, though they're usually not the first thing on his plate he consumes. But that could change if he starts seeing broccoli, spinach, and Brussels sprouts as Hulk-food. And as long as no one clues him in to the difference between the Jolly "ho-ho-ho" Green Giant and Dr. Bruce Banner/aka the Hulk, this strategy might work for a week or two.
Perhaps JGG and the Hulk are brothers under the (green) skin. (Hm. I smell a good Avengers sub-plot cookin' here.) For now, little guys everywhere are happily eating their green veggies, thanks to big green guys.
Liam is deep into his superhero phase. Captain America, Spiderman, Batman, the Hulk - if the guy has outlandish powers of any kind, he's ripe for emulation. Capes and masks of all kinds are conveniently scattered around, just in case the superhero mood strikes. In the middle of Thanksgiving festivities last year, GrandBoy disappeared for a while, only to reappear as Captain America. And we gave thanks that he'd turned up. How many other families had a superhero at their Thanksgiving table?
I have no problem with superheroes, just as I have no problem with princesses. Pretending to be all-powerful stretches the imagination in all sorts of ways. And let's face it, childhood's probably the last time you think you can be all-powerful, since the teenage years pretty much destroy that notion. Trying on different supernatural gifts like flying, being invisible, climbing buildings, changing the world with a wave of a magic wand or by twisting magic ring lets a kid figure out all kinds of crazy things. Plus, the costumes are terrific.
But to grow up to be a real superhero,whether Captain America or Wonder Woman, Spiderman or Cinderella, there are some powers that translate into the real world.
I hope Liam never loses the superhero desire to help someone in trouble or in danger. I hope he never loses the passion for truth and justice. I hope he puts his superhero brain into action a little more than he puts his superhero physical powers to work. And may he ever resist and destroy evil to the best of his superhero abilities.
Let's face it, the real superhero and princess traits turn out to be some very basic things.
a love for learning
being a good friend and kind to strangers
helping the less fortunate
growing in faith and living into that faith
being an informed citizen and actively participating in the civic process
resisting stupid, dangerous impulses, like driving drunk
developing natural talents and abilities
developing a sense of humor
putting family first and being a good parent
treasuring every day
There are more super hero abilities, of course, and real superheroes discover them along the way. A 3-year-old pretending to be Captain America or Batman is just the start of the journey.
But what happens to super heroes and princesses when they get old? Why, they become grandparents, of course!
I have 2013 wishes for my dear GrandBoy and the little granddaughter who will join our family in a few months. Sometimes wishes are the most a GrandMary can give, so here they are:
I offer 500 wishes for your good physical and mental health. A strong body and healthy mind provide a firm foundation for every other aspect of your life. Take care of yourself.
I offer 250 wishes for an inquiring and discerning heart. I want you to wonder, to dream, to think, to figure things out - right from wrong, day from night, wise and unwise. Notice the word is "heart," not "mind." Whatever your intellectual pursuits and aspirations, may they always contain a dollop of humanity, of heart, of faith.
Which brings me to 250 wishes for your compassion. Don't be a meanie. Be strong enough to stand up for yourself and for other people, but don't be a bully. Always be able to imagine what it's like to be someone else, and act accordingly. Individualism is fine, but we're all in this world together. Learn the Beatitudes. Live by the Golden Rule as best you can. Find a way to practice your faith daily, in all kinds of situations.
Most of my wishes for you - 1013 wishes - are for your lives to be filled with love. You've been blessed with great loving families on every side. We are all here for you and love you more than you will ever understand, until, maybe, you have children of your own. Love your family back. You can depend on them to always be in your corner. Let them know that they can depend on you, too.
Find yourselves true friends and love them like crazy. They'll teach you about love in ways your family can't.
Love books and learning and travel and theatre and music and working with your hands and creating interesting stuff and helping other folks.
If you remember all the people and things you love every single day, you won't have much time to let whatever you hate take over your lives. Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, and mind, and this should be easier for you.
Liam and Granddaughter-to-be, those are my 2013 wishes for you. Good health, a compassionate, discerning heart, and love. Lots of love. You have my heart. You have my love. May all 2013 wishes come true.
Well, it didn't happen, my taking GrandBoy on a little Christmas shopping trip for his mama and daddy. Oh, we got close. Very close.
It was a rainy, rainy day. We piled into the car. Got caught in traffic. He was chattering all the way. I didn't really notice when he went silent, but it couldn't have been more than two or three blocks before I pulled into the parking lot of the store. I got a great spot, right next to the door, which was very fortunate since it was pouring rain.
When I turned off the car and looked back to check on GrandBoy, I found him sound asleep. Snoring, even. I tried to rouse him, but he would have none of it. Let sleeping toddlers lie, indeed. I waited for about ten minutes, then, to heck with it, and drove back home. Ah, well. Not this year.
However, lest you think he didn't provide Christmas gifts for his parents, let me relieve you of that notion. He laughed and ran around and danced and jumped and brought energetic delight daily. He was quick with hugs, kisses, and "I love you so much!" throughout. He helped make Christmas cookies, which we all ate. He added his creative touch to a card I made for his dad.
In the end, the greatest gift he gave to his mama and daddy was just being Liam. Perfect!
It's a crazy plan. Yup, I know that from the start. But here's what I want to try. I want to take almost-3-yr-old GrandBoy to buy Christmas presents for his mama and daddy. Gifts of his own choosing. With a fairly small dollar limit. And without buying anything for himself. Yeah. I'm looking for a Christmas miracle.
The thing is, I think he's old enough to understand the concept of giving. Joyfully. I want him to experience the fun of searching out and buying something special for the people he loves most in the world. Some little something that will make them smile, maybe a little keepsake. But I really want the gifts to be things that he has chosen. OK, maybe I can give a little guidance, but really, I don't want to do the selecting.
Is this impossible?
I'm fully confident that GrandBoy can do this. I think he will get in
the spirit of the season and find some fun, perfect gifts for his mama
and daddy. Gifts that he thinks are right for them. Still, it might take a little patience and guidance to toddler-shop successfully.
Where can I take him to do his Christmas shopping? It has to be somewhere that doesn't have toys and stuff that will distract him to the point of just wanting 'prises for himself. So, Target's out (he knows where the toys are).
I am open to suggestions. Anyone shopped with an almost-3-year-old and successfully passed along the fun of buying for others, while avoiding a tearful meltdown when he realizes he's not shopping for himself? Can it be done? Any timely tips?