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Lately I’ve been thinking about grandchildren.

I have to start by saying I’m really not in any hurry. While it’s true I know lots of people who are younger than I am and answering to Grandma, I’m not anxious to join their ranks.

Really. I’m not.

The truth is all my children have moved out of their teens into their 20s. My husband and I were blessed with three great kids, who share a fine sense of responsibility and a good work ethic, but I still don’t see them as adults. Why should I?

They have years and years ahead of mortgages and car payments and worrying about the future. They should enjoy their young adult status as long as possible and have all the fun they can while they can.

Once a young adult becomes a parent, most lose that young adult status. While some people become full-fledged adults without ever being parents, and occasionally you run into a parent who just never grew up, for most people that threshold between young adult and real adult comes with the responsibilities of a new generation.

So while my own kids are enjoying their young adult status, I have some time to think about the grandmother I may become. Someday. No hurry.

Our family has always been grandparent deficient. I only remember my mother’s father well. The only memory I have of my mother’s mother is one she would probably hate. I must have been about 6 years old that Easter when my mother sent me next door to my grandparents’ house to show off my new spring outfit. I ran into the house unannounced and directly into my grandmother as she stepped out of the shower. I remember her trying, unsuccessfully, to cover herself up. She died unexpectedly not long after that Easter.

But my grandfather was a great grandparent. I remember him fixing my bike and paying me to pull dandelions in his yard when I needed money for candy. He was at all our special occasions, even when we grew into bored teenagers who didn’t value his presence. I hope he understood that deep down inside, we loved him.

My own children never knew either of their grandfathers, but they did have two wonderful grandmothers, who often seemed to visit at the same time. Many of our Christmas photos feature a grandmother on either side. Sadly, we lost both of them in recent years.

I want to be the type of grandmother my mother was, but I wouldn’t want to have to do it long distance the way she did. Of course, it wasn’t her fault that we kept moving away from her.

Even when we lived on opposite sides of the country, my mother always knew what activities my kids were involved in. She always seemed happy to get the endless dance and baseball pictures, although she finally asked me to stop sending them in frames when her bookcase was overflowing.

When she came to visit she always tried to help. When our youngest was born, it was Grandma who flew across the country to drive the oldest to dance lessons. But they never made it to dance lessons. Grandma got lost and ended up on the other side of Fort Wayne, Ind. Eventually we got her back.

The kids probably never knew how much Grandma was on their side. I still have a long, thoughtful letter she wrote in reply to my complaints about our teenager driving us crazy. Her advice: “Don’t let the teenage turmoil ruin your relationship. Just keep loving your child and she’ll return to you as a young adult.”

Grandma was right, of course.

When my kids are ready, I want to be the type of grandmother who takes the kids for a few days so the parents can get away.

I want to spoil my grandchildren a little bit and then lecture their parents about spoiling them. I want to go back to the Fisher Price aisle at Walmart and buy some more Little People toys and help another generation push legless people around in tiny cars.

Even though I’m really not in a hurry to have grandchildren, I really can’t wait.

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Before our youngest child was born, we told our middle child the new baby was going to be his birthday present. He wasn’t particularly impressed. He wanted a bike.
Having two children with birthdays three days apart used to cause a lot of problems. Back when I was arranging their birthday parties, I could never find a way to combine them. When the older one was hosting roller skating parties, the younger was barely walking. When I took the younger one and her friends to a G-rated movie, the older one was only interested in R-rated movies.
Birthday week was a nightmare when they were both in grade school. Not only did I feel obligated to provide 25 cupcakes for each child’s class, there was also baking required for both the family birthday party and the actual kid birthday party.
I would have been fine with serving purchased cakes, but with two kids needing gifts, parties and special dinners, I needed to pinch pennies whenever possible.
I used to love planning a themed birthday party — back when they were young enough to tolerate my ideas. One of the last themed parties we had happened to be for the oldest daughter, who agreed to a beach party in the basement. Her birthday is in February, so it had to be an indoor party. Even then, none of the invitees wore their bathing suits. We drew beach scenes on long pieces of newsprint and hung them around the walls.
I wasn’t quite crazy enough to import sand and water into our partially finished basement, but I did force my husband to help me make “surfboards.” We cut a piece of plywood to a surfboard-like shape and placed it on a piece of PVC pipe so the kids could balance while we played Beach Boys songs. The kids all thought we were crazy.
For the younger two, birthday week always corresponded with the opening day of the city’s Children’s Zoo when we lived near Fort Wayne, Ind., and I took advantage of that.
First, I had to scour the local Hallmark shops for zoo-themed paper goods. Then I used to load up the little red wagon with snacks and drinks and round up four or five of her friends. I got to know that zoo really well over the years.
We always started with the prairie dogs, which looked like the guinea pigs we had in the basement, and we finished with the petting zoo, which meant chasing the goats out of the little red wagon.
Looking back, I’m wondering if maybe I liked the zoo trips more than the kids did. I’m not sure.
It’s been a while since I’ve been in charge of anything except for the family birthday dinner. With the youngest off at college and the middle child living in his own house, the biggest obstacle is scheduling the festivities.
It took an entire morning of texting, emailing and, as a last resort, calling to pin them down to one dinner. Now comes the complicated menu negotiations.
She wants grilled shrimp, he wants barbecued spare ribs. The older sister, who had her own birthday dinner in February, has diet restrictions to factor in. So salad, shrimp and spare ribs. Yum.
By combining the birthdays, I solve the cake issue. I’ll just buy one cake for everyone. It may have to have one white layer and one chocolate layer, I don’t know.
One thing I do know, with all three of them now in their 20s, I know I’m lucky to have them home for birthday dinners every year. I may have to make 50 cupcakes for old times’ sake. Or maybe not.

photo

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Turning my home videos into DVD’s has been a big project. As usual, I find myself wishing for a better technology background. Of course, back when I was in school picking up background, we didn’t even have VHS. Home movies were on film that was projected reel to reel. And computers were mammoth things in school offices, not something you’d be able to play with at home. But this isn’t a blog about my age or technology. I wanted to write about the home movies.
I had a few surprises when I started really watching those tapes I made about 20 years ago. It’s funny the things you forget.
I totally remembered that my kids were very cute toddlers, but I had forgotten the dimples that made the middle child’s smile so infectious. Even now, twenty years later, I find myself smiling back at him every time he turns towards the camera. Of course he was smiling every time he turned towards the camera. That’s just the kind of kid he was.
His older sister was always firmly in control of everything except her own hair. She ordered her brother to do her bidding as her blond curls bounced around her face. When she was little, we kept her hair short and let it wave and curl on its own. But during the middle school years, when she insisted on growing her hair long like all her friends, it got a little out of control. But she wouldn’t listen to my advice to cut it.
When I saw the first few shots of our youngest daughter, I was amazed that she was the only one of the three who had hair as an infant. And her hair wasn’t anywhere near as blond as it is now. Isn’t that strange? She looks more like her sister now than she did back then.
But I think I was most surprised at myself. Was I really that skinny in between baby two and baby three? I sure wasn’t after baby three! And I was pretty confident as I interacted with the kids and their friends. Maybe my mother was right. I should have been a preschool teacher!
My mother and mother-in-law where frequent guest stars in our home videos which were mostly shot at family events. When you see them there with the kids, it’s impossible to believe that they’re both gone.
There are several birthdays on those old tapes and so far I’ve run across two long sequences of piñata bashing. I mean really long sequences. You would think I would’ve learned from the first time – when it took so long to break the homemade piñata. On that tape you can hear one of the mothers pleading with her son to hit it harder because they really have to leave. I started my young party guests out with plastic hammers and no blindfolds, but as they continued to bash without results, I passed out wooden spoons. I know I must have considered using a baseball bat at some point, but they were doing more damage to each other than to the piñata so I held back.
Then a few years later the same thing happened at completely different birthday party. Again, you can hear the parents begging their children to hit it harder. Everyone was ready to go home.
I’m glad I videoed the destruction of my living room after hosting a “Cabbage Patch Party” for eight kindergarteners. I remember almost panicking when the last mother dropped off the last of the six year olds and didn’t stay to help. Why did I think I could wrangle eight little girls, a four year old boy, and their Cabbage Patch babies without assistance? I’m pretty sure we all survived and eventually I must have put my living room back together or else we just moved. I’m not sure…
If I had it to do all over again, I’d shoot a lot more video of everyday things. We have one sequence on the front lawn of the house in Heber Springs. I know I shot it because we were getting ready to move and I’m glad to have those images because we loved that house. I’m just sorry I didn’t video tape our first boat which was also left behind in that move. Of course, in those days we didn’t own a video camera.
For years we used a camera borrowed from his work to shoot those Christmases, birthdays and the new baby. For the dance recitals, we simply copied other people’s videos. Even twenty years later, it’s easy to identify the child whose parents let us copy their tape. She’s the one in the center of the frame, waving to the camera. Our little dancer is somewhere in back and you have to watch carefully to glimpse her. But I’m happy to have even the glimpse, because our oldest child in the little red tutu was the cutest dancer ever to grace the stage in Heber Springs Elementary School!

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I have a love/hate relationship with fall.  It’s kind of like your birthday when you’re over that certain age.  You know you have to turn a year older and you know you don’t like it, but you still want to enjoy the day. 

Fall means the end of summer and I really like summer.  I like hot weather. I like long days. I like the freedom from routine that comes with summer.  Then all of a sudden, the days are shorter and cooler and routines are back. 

For years, I dreaded the first day of school as much as the kids.  Other parents celebrated when their kids went back to school, but I suspect they didn’t have to drive them.  The first day of school meant a return of backpacks and lunch boxes piled by the back door and homework being frantically completed in the back seat of the van.  It meant trying to get everyone into bed early so that we could all get up early and get on the road.  I liked summer better when I only had to get myself up and out early in the morning.

Now my life no longer revolves around kids schedules, but I still don’t like the end of summer.  Everyone’s schedule gets busier in the fall when the chores you postponed all summer suddenly have to get done.  And there’s that cold weather thing.

There used to be more perks to fall.  I grew up in New England, and while I’m a now a loyal Arkansan, I can’t quite get enthusiastic about the fall foliage here in the Ozarks.  I mean, it’s fine, but it’s not Vermont.  Anyone who has ever been in Vermont at the peak of foliage season knows what I mean.

Then there was apple picking.  We went one time after we moved to Arkansas, but we had to go in August and the apples just weren’t the same.  In New England and for a few years when we lived in Indiana, apple picking was the perfect family event.  Growing up, I never really understood why my mother let us hide apples in the back of the station wagon. My mother never broke a law in her life and we were stealing maybe  dozens of apples!  It was our one foray in criminal activity and we loved it.  Years later, I let my own kids eat as many apples as they possible could while we were picking our own and then we gleefully didn’t pay for them. It was still fun. 

And camping in the fall used to be great.  That was when you could build a big campfire and really enjoy it.  We always had fires when we camped in the summer months too, but I can’t enjoy a fire unless I’M wearing flannel shirts and looking forward to heavy duty sleeping bags.  We stopped camping about the same time we moved to the lake.  I’d probably still go, even if we camped a only few miles down the road in Prairie Creek, but my husband refuses to leave the comforts of home and the pontoon boat.

Even raking leaves was fun  back in the day.  We would pile up huge piles of Oak leaves and then jump into them.  After we had raked them, scattered them, and racked them again, we would push them all down to the edge of the street and burn them.  The smell of burning leaves was the incense of fall.  There was never a year that we didn’t tell the urban legend (at least I hope it was an urban legend) about the child hiding in the street side pile of leaves when his older brother decided to scatter them with his car. 

Of course, we don’t burn leaves anymore event though we live out in the county. I just can’t to add to the air pollution unnecessarily.  And strangely, my kids never jumped in leaves the way we used to.  The truth is, as an adult I look at pile of leaves and I think about the sticks that could poke out an eye, and the dog waste that must have been raked up too.  I can’t encourage them to jump into something like that.  So instead fall leaves have became just a difficult chore.  We have a big yard with a lot of old trees.  It’s not easy trying to get all those leaves into the empty lot we own and then get them back to the empty lot after the next big storm. 

But as much as there is to whine about fall, sometimes you get a day like today.  You get a day when the sun hits the foliage and it’s a lot like Vermont.  You get a day when the sky is bluer than it’s been all summer and a few white puffy clouds float through for contrast. The lake looks like glass and it’s empty and beckoning.  The air has just enough of a chill to make it feasible to wear your favorite red hoodie and instead of the flip flops you’re tired of, you can wear your sneakers again and feel like you can  run anywhere. 

Sometimes I love the fall, even if am going to miss the summer evenings on the lake.

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All those years while I worked full time and spent my “free time” running from soccer fields to dance practices, I dreamed of having a block of time that I could devote to “de-cluttering” the house.  I knew that if I just had a long block of time I could finally go through the top shelf of the guest room closet and the big closet under the stairs that no one ever opens.  I knew that I could organize all my stuff into categories and color code it for future use. 

When I found myself facing unemployment, I thought that time had come.  It’s not like I was happy about it.  Unemployment isn’t that much fun, but I felt like maybe, just maybe, the bright spot in my suddenly dim future might be organized closets.  Maybe I could use those unemployment checks to buy color coded storage containers and finally organize the craft stuff that I’ve carted from house to house while I waited to have time to use it.  Maybe I could sort the bags of out grown clothes that I can’t seem to get rid of. Maybe I could gather the photos from all the various drawers and baskets and finally put them into albums.

It’s been several months now and I’m pretty sure, it’s not gonna happen. 

There have been a few small victories.  I did fill several photos albums last winter, but then I found a couple more stashes of unalbumed photos so it’s not really finished. I did finally clean out the roll top desk – actually that’s where I found the extra photos.  I did manage to move all the genealogy materials from both sides of the family into a file cabinet so I actually know where it is.  I never seem to need genealogy materials for anything, but if I do, I can find them. 

Today was a biggie.  I tackled one of my biggest clutter challenges – the downstairs bathroom. 

We’ve lived in this house for eleven years now and the downstairs bathroom has been in the custody of a succession of teenagers.  Two of them have moved out of the house, but for some mysterious reason, their stuff didn’t move with them.  Now, the baby of the family is getting ready to leave for college and it’s time to turn the teenager’s bathroom into a guest bathroom. 

I must have been really busy when the oldest was using that bathroom because instead of helping her learn to organize and store her clutter, I simply enabled her.  I bought fabric shoe holder and hung it on the back of the bathroom door and let her fill it with an impressive array of skin care, hair care and make up products. Everything that would not fit into the two drawers and the big cabinets under the sink ended up on the back of that door.  And it stayed on the back of the door for way too long.

During those years, her younger brother was also living in the basement, but he was never allowed to use that bathroom.  He had to come upstairs and share his little sister’s bathroom to avoid violence during the morning school rush. 

When the oldest went off to college, the middle child, our only son, took over the downstairs bathroom.  While he didn’t have as many products as his sister, he did seem to collect half used deodorant containers and, for some reason, shaving kits.  Naturally when he moved into his first apartment, he didn’t bother moving anything from his bathroom.

According to the natural order of things, the youngest inherited the larger bedroom and the downstairs bathroom when her brother moved out.  I helped her empty stuff out of that larger bedroom and we repainted it for her, but we never got to the bathroom.  Decluttering the downstairs bathroom was simply added to my to do list, right under the photo albums.  

So with our youngest getting ready to leave for college, I knew it was now or never. We waded into the downstairs bathroom carrying trash bags, laundry baskets and cleaning supplies.  Then I realized exactly how small it is, and put the laundry baskets and trash bags out in the hall.  We emptied the hanging shoe bag and threw away expired make up and almost empty hair products.  We removed the drawers and found the retainers that our former orthodonture patients were supposed to be wearing for the rest of their lives. I found outgrown eye glasses and the last few pills from a long ago anti biotic prescription that should have been finished.  I found a copy of a discipline referral from Rogers High School and now I have to ground our middle child retroactively. 

A full bag went into the trash and a small box for the Salvation Army was filled with shaving kits, make up bags and false eyelashes once purchased for a dance recital and misplaced before they were ever used. 

Whenever I declutter, some of the clutter is simply moved.  My husband now has half a dozen half empty containers of deodorant and I have a shoe bag for the back of my closet door, but at least I have room to store some clean towels.  And after all these years, we finally have a guest bathroom.

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Although I can’t remember how it came up in conversation, I clearly remember the surprise on the young mother’s face when I told her I had used cloth diapers.  Not only did I wash those diapers, I hung them to dry out in back yard.  Oh, the shock… 

Now my babies are pretty well grown, so those memories are well over 15 years old, but it seems like yesterday.  Some things – like dumping a full diaper bucket into a washing machine – you just don’t forget.

After a cycle of really hot water and bleach, I used to put my baby monitor into the basket with the damp diapers and take them out to the rectangular clothes hanger that had been handed down to me from my mother-in-law. We lived in rural Kentucky surrounded by huge trees, so the sunlight was at premium.  That collapsible rectangle with its web of nylon ropes just fit into the only patch of sunshine. And, of course, as I told my young audience a while back, the reason to hang diapers was so the sun could take some of those yellow and brown stains out. It was my mother who let me in on the secret powers of sunlight on diapers. 

The truth is that my diaper decision was more economical than environmental. We were so broke in those early years that I was more concerned with saving money than saving the environment. After all, you could buy a dozen cloth diapers and use them for months for the same price as 24 disposable diapers.  But I wasn’t above taking credit for saving a little landfill space when my peers questioned me about by controversial decision.

Even 20 years ago, very few young mothers voluntarily washed diapers and the truth is, it’s not so bad. Mothers always have to deal with “stuff” they would rather not touch, it’s only one more unpleasant step in a process no one enjoys.  I could even argue that folding those soft, mostly white diapers fresh off the clothes line was kind of nice. But the truth is, even the power of the sun doesn’t take all those stains. The green ones were especially challenging.  

I don’t think I ever convinced my husband to take care of the all important dunking step.  Another clear memory: finding the used diaper pushed to the side of the changing pad, waiting for me to do the dunking.  But at least he learned not to stick the baby when he pinned them with the big, yellow ended diaper pins. Well, eventually he learned not to stick the baby when he pinned the diapers.

And then there were rubber pants. Do they even sell those now? I think today’s environmentalist moms have much better ways to cover cloth diapers. I would have loved the options they have now. I remember when I found brightly colored rubber pants that with matching T-shirts. I have pictures of my oldest wearing what I thought was ultimate in baby chic – a bright yellow T-shirt and matching yellow rubber pants that bagged around her diaper like a pair of birthday party balloons. I had to line dry the rubber pants too, because the dryer ruined the plastic.

My cloth diapers wearing babies haven’t had a chance to make their own decision on cloth versus disposable diapers. I haven’t had a chance to pass on my mother’s tip about drying in the sun.  But one of these days, I’ll have to tell them that cloth diapers really aren’t that bad.

What goes around, comes around.

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Last fall I wrote a newspaper column about our youngest child’s senior year of high school called it “the first of the lasts”.  But now we’re closing in on the lasts of the lasts. I think this whole week will be dedicated to the last high school graduation I will be personally involved in. Not really my first choice for how to spend my time, but it seems to be required.

Tonight is the last Scholarship Assembly.  Although it’s the first one at the “new” high school, I attended a decades worth at the other high school. Of course, most of those assemblies I attended as a reporter which gave me a completely different perspective. As a reporter, I loitered close to the stage with my camera and my notebook.  The challenge was always to get a decent photo I could identify.  If you were concentrating on snapping a decent photo, you really didn’t have time to write down the name so I would look for kids I happened to know.  I always knew some of them.  My kids’ friends always got more than their fair share of publicity.

The Scholarship Assembly isn’t that much fun. As much as I appreciate the many donors who make the many scholarships possible, it’s tough for me to watch those same 20 or 30 kids being called to stage over and over.  The smart kids who already have a full ride at some great university, also get the smaller scholarships that would make a big difference to some of the less smart kids.  My own personal kids fall into that second category so it’s hard to watch. 

None of my kids have been interested in  Baccalaureate and that’s fine with me – one less evening to spend in the high school audiotorium.

A new twist this year will be a graduation brunch.  I’m not even sure how the young graduate talked me into this.  She was just so sure that she deserved a party and I just didn’t have the heart to refuse. After all, she is the last one.  So Thursday and Friday will be spent cleaning, shopping and cooking for a Saturday morning party.

Why Saturday morning?  Well Saturday night we’ll all be at Project Graduation just as if we were that close a family.  I think it might actually kill her dad and me.

Project Graduation is a great idea.  The parents throw a huge party, designed to attract as many graduates as possible so they can spend their evening in a safe, alcohol and drug free envirnonment.  It’s a lock in and goes on until 4 a.m.  That’s the problem.  4 a.m.

The older kids refused to let us anywhere near their Project Graduation.  I helped set up and went home to bed, but too bad for us, the youngest has agreed to tolerate our presence.  Of course, her Dad and I will be working in the “casino” and she plans to avoid that whole area, so we may not even see her.  But we get to stay up all night on Saturday anyway, so there’s no way I’m planning a party for Sunday. 

So here goes. The last of the lasts. The only question is, how much am I going to cry?

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