Grandchild Exhibits Remarkable Ability to Learn Words

I don’t know what it is about babies that turn me into an absolute, charm-curdled, gooey, mushmouth. A scant 10 years ago, I would have slit my wrists before saying something as sickeningly sweet as “Ooooh, aren’t you a tweet wittle girl?” or “Gigi loves you. Can you say Gigi? Gigi? No? Say Gigi!!” or “Look at those toes! Who painted those itty-bitty wittle toes?”

My grandbaby, Sophia, reduces me to mono-syllabic, unintelligible wads of baby language that I did not even know I could pull out of my brain. One look at those sweet blue eyes fringed with golden lashes, carrot-colored curls and chubby fingers pointing at everything in sight, and my hard-earned vocabulary stalks right out the front door as I cheerfully identify stuff in terms a baby can mimic. After all, an 18-month old child cannot say things like “butterfly,” but she can say “bu.” So, in an entranced attempt to communicate, I found myself forming entire sentences like this: “Dog foot hat.” “Tree leaf green.” “Bug tomato – oops, she cannot say tomato, ummm…bug RED BALL.” With sentences like these, I am consistently rewarded with toddler smiles and giggles and adorable baby expressions.

Man. Talk about leaving one’s rapier-sharp wit shredded to bits on the floor of the Pack ‘n Play.

Not only that, but I have entered the time warp between adult children flying the coop and grandbabies flapping around the empty nest. It is surreal, somehow. Reminiscent of my agonizing, sleep-deprived, young-motherhood days; but lacking the youth and energy I remember during those midnight feedings and poop patrol (diaper changing, for those of you uninitiated in baby-care terminology).

I had four of the little rascals, (translation: exhausted); so when they flew the coop, I waved a vigorous good-bye with nary a thought to the baby boomerang that was sure to come.

It has come.

Not only have the progeny of the rascals begun to return, one of my daughters is marrying a man with a built-in three-year old; so my grandchildren are MULTIPLYING by virtue of cultural exponentials; a fearful development.

What if I end up with something like 24 grandchildren??? How will I find the time to coo and heave mono-syllabic conversations at them all? How will I remember their birthdays? What if my adult kids (heaven forbid) divorce, and re-marry, thus dragging entire new throngs of step-grandchildren along with them? What if I forget their names or get them mixed up?

But I am getting ahead of myself.

I have found thus far that I am really, really good with one infant in the house. I am moderately cool with one older grandchild and one infant. I am really, really stressed out and witchy with two infants in the house, and let’s not  think about what would happen to my attitude (not to mention my verbiage) if I had three infants in the house. Or even two infants and a toddler. Or, horror of horrors, two toddlers, two infants and a newborn. The possibilities for self-implosion are infinite.

I do not even want to consider it.

The past three days, I had one adult child and one toddler, less one husband who was working out of town. A groovy combination. I felt no pressure to be attentive to the husband, or keep the house quiet, peaceful and orderly. I had loads of time to heap sweet and sappy phraseology upon the 18-month old, and was sufficiently energized to sneakily teach the toddler rather lamentable words, which alternately horrified and delighted her mother, my oldest daughter.

When my daughter arrived, her precious Sophia in tow, I was thrilled to discover she now is somewhat able to communicate. For instance, “flower” is “flou,” diaper is “di,” “ball” is “bo,” “Gigi” is “Eeee,” “Mama” is “Ma-mo.” The language of toddlers delights me. I could listen to it for hours. The cat is “Maow.” It isn’t, “Where is the kitty, Gigi?”; it is scrunched-up-face, perplexed eyes and a one-word question: “Maow?” I understood her completely, which rather distressed me, but I believe my brain will rebound in a few days.

It was with this fond and grandmotherly mindset that I proceeded to add to her verbal repertoire. Overcome with an inexplicable evil desire to hasten the inevitable march toward the “terrible two’s,” I grabbed one of her stuffed, talking animals, clutched it to my chest, gazed deeply into her sea-blue eyes rimmed with the lightest gold eyelashes; and said “My.”
Her eyes flashed with understanding. Immediately. It was remarkable. She quickly snatched the animal from my hands, clutched it to her tiny chest, and intoned “MY.”

I had never seen my daughter’s head snap around so quickly. “MOM!” I blinked my eyes rapidly at her, forced my lips from a smile into a straight line, and replied innocently, “What?”
“You know what!! We hoped it would be a while before she got that concept! What are you doing??”

I considered this and slanted my eyes at her. Grandmothers should be allowed a bit of payback at their adult children’s expense, shouldn’t they?

Well, shouldn’t they?

Of course they should.

So, after my daughter settled down a bit, and behind her back, I reinforced the “my” concept a few more times. I soon tired of this, as Sophia caught on so quickly it was unnecessary to drill her. I then decided that any self-respecting baby should at least be taught a few creative ways to let her parents know her diaper needs changing.

I tucked my little Sophia in my lap and whispered gently in her ear a universally acknowledged two-syllable word: “poo-poo.”

And just like that, Sophia picked it up. Her brilliance is amazing. “Poo-poo!” she yelled proudly. I was not sure she grasped the concept that this word might be used to indicate a dirty diaper, but nonetheless, she appeared delighted that she could repeat these sounds perfectly with little effort.

Her mother’s mouth dropped open in unbelief. This time it took a few seconds for her to get anything out. “Seriously? Seriously, Mom? Are you kidding me? Poo-poo? Oh my gosh.” She grabbed Sophia in disgust. “Do you know how hard we have worked for her NOT to say that?

Sophia, trying to laugh like Mommy and Gigi

I  am temporarily disheartened. Then I look at the baby and whisper “poo-poo.” She grins wickedly and shrieks, “Poo! POO!” Her mother’s shoulders slump. She slices her eyes toward me and risks a smile. Then a laugh. Then a belly laugh.

Soon, we are cackling like two hens in a cage full of roosters. Our sides are heaving, and tears are rolling from our eyes; breathless with hilarity. Sophia, who loves laughter, mocks us with baby-cackling sounds which try, but fail, to actually sound like laughter, which causes us to crack up even more. The more we laugh, the more she imitates us, her eyes crinkled in amusement; her tiny, perfect, white teeth gleaming from the smile splitting her chubby pink cheeks.

The funny episode dropped from our minds later that evening as we fixed a great dinner, watched movies, played with the baby and talked. I decided not to push my daughter over the edge, and backed off on teaching Sophia brat-worthy responses. It was just a bit of fun, and I didn’t really think Sophia would sustain lasting impressions.

The morning my daughter was getting ready to leave, I was given the task of entertaining Sophia while she packed to leave. I walked the baby around the yard, showed her birds, pointed out butterflies, picked up the beleaguered cat and sat it on my lap so she could kiss it good-bye (“Bye, maow.” Pat, pat, Grip. Squeeze. “Bye, maow.” Cat makes frantic dash off my lap to hide.) When everything was packed, I plopped Sophia in her car seat and her mom and I buckled her up. I kissed her all over her face and told her bye-bye.

She gazed at me with earnest blue eyes and solemnly whispered, “Poo. Poo.”

Empty-Nest Queen Misplaces Crown

She is packing up the kids, the dog, the clothes, the suitcases, the diaper bag, the car seat, various life-easing baby gadgets and exiting the building.

In the wake of my daughter’s six-week visit – which included a 14-month old, an eight-year old and a German Shepherd, I am left with remnants of a vicious sore throat I contracted from the baby, a sore back from picking up discarded food, toys, diapers, homework, dishes, half-empty bottles of water and soda; a vacuous solitude-deprived disgruntlement, and a wave of relief that I am sure will be short-lived because I will miss them immediately.

Is there humor in this? Irony, maybe? A little wisdom?

The empty-nesting, entitlement part of me has been mortally wounded; body-slammed into submission. This is not a bad thing, because to love well does include sacrifice and a choice to commit to do whatever the situation dictates. I know this in my head, but to get this little morsel of profundity into my heart has been an arduous undertaking these past few weeks.

Backward-looking reflection, in my experience, is always rose-colored and draped in rainbows; because I tend to forget the bitter shards of reality that stab the entire experience. In this case, since I am writing about it before the experience is fully over (there are still baby toys on the floor, tiny socks under the couch, a nearly-empty bottle in the sink and I can hear my daughter packing upstairs), I am dead center in the throes of fresh and gritty insight.

I find myself probing starkly the statement my daughter made a couple of weeks ago, which was: “You think more of your carpet and furniture than you do of spending time with us!” This declaration was made through tears, as I was, for the fortieth time, beseeching her to pick up after herself and the children (which she did, mostly; just not always in my anticipated time frame), and that no, the baby could NOT carry around food or anything that leaked on the off-white carpet. Unfortunately, I forgot that diapers leak, too, but I suppose this is a foregone conclusion. Eventually I just packed a can of spot-remover in my back pocket. I should have bought a house with tile floors.

The conclusion I have come to thus far is that I am not, and never have been, a grandmother-ly person, in the image of, for instance – Aunt Bea of The Andy Griffith Show.

My daughter and her giant, energetic German Shepherd, Cale

This is both a good thing and a bad thing.

It is good, because I am youthful and energetic and style-conscious and can hold an interesting conversation with my daughter about things other than child-rearing and cooking. It is bad, because I no longer have the fire in my belly to prepare breakfast, lunch and dinner every night or run after children or dogs to train them about this and that. I will love and play with them, change diapers, and help with homework but that’s about as much as I want to do. I had forgotten how much actual physical work goes along with children.

Two cuties

Boy, had I forgotten.

In my defense, I did cook occasionally. But sometimes, they simply foraged in my refrigerator. I cuddled with them incessantly. I read to them. I played with them. I dressed the baby in cute clothes. I did a lot of grandmother stuff. I am not totally un-grandmotherly, but I am overly-orderly, and the inevitable mess children cause almost put me over the edge.

I think there is a place for compromise between mothers and daughters with young children when they come to visit for an extended length of time. However, the conversations that ensue over differences in lifestyle, housekeeping, care of children and the like – are difficult and apt to be riddled with emotion. But if one is willing to talk through (i.e. stay connected instead of abruptly ending the dialogue due to emotional stress) challenging situations, even though it is extremely uncomfortable, there is a richer relationship on the other side. Understanding each other’s feelings and perceptions is important.

There are things that imprint a child firmly – both good and bad – when they are growing up. When the child becomes an adult and is stuck in a situation where they must spend extended time with a parent, monster issues that were supposed to have been laid to rest a long time ago, may spring to life and grow teeth.

I found myself wondering, through several challenging conversations with my 29-year-old daughter, who had planted those lies in her head. I was mystified by some of her perceptions.

I suppose we can all point to relationships that ripped apart because of misperceptions, but I have discovered if a person articulates a misconception about me, I’d better listen, because there may be a grain of truth there. I am not very accurate in my assessment of myself. So I took a self-inventory after our difficult conversations; as did she, and think that both of us have become a little wiser; and hopefully, our future visits together will bear it out.

As King Solomon said in Proverbs: “Wisdom is the principal thing. Therefore get wisdom. And in all your getting, get understanding. Proverbs 4:7

The very best thing is to be teachable; to get wisdom. To run after it.

In the midst of poopy diapers, sick, cranky baby and wet dog smell, I have to confess that I didn’t run after wisdom. I crawled toward it reluctantly, simultaneously trying very hard to keep spots off the rug, the house picked up, the grandchildren and my daughter happy, and the dog out of the house.

At least I kept the dog out of the house.

Leaving, Cleaving and the Twilight Zone

I am now entering Week Three of my daughter’s family’s visit as they transition to life after the Navy, and I am forced to slow down, smell the diapers…oops, I mean daisies…and ruminate. For those of you that do not know what ruminate is, you should, because it is a great word, and worth looking up.

Bonnie is my oldest daughter. She turns 29 this week. She and her husband have been stationed in Sicily the last two and a half years. Thanks to Obama – for whom I nurture many well-rehearsed and aptly-aimed negative thoughts – Bonnie’s husband Jeff was drummed out of the Navy due to defense budget cuts. So they are flailing a bit trying to find their ‘legs’ after 11 years in the Navy; e.g. finding civilian jobs and a new – as yet unknown – place to live.

In the meantime, while Jeff is completing his obligations to the US Navy, Bonnie, her 14-month old and eight-year old daughters, plus a huge, energetic German shepherd (did I mention energetic?) made the trip across the pond and are staying with us for six weeks. And before every grandparent out there recoils in horror at the thought of a German shepherd and two young children and their mother in the house after supposedly becoming empty-nesters (empty nesting is reality in word only. Well, actually it is reality in two words only but the point is, I am not sure it ever really happens); I will relieve the tension by telling you that I have a huge, FENCED, backyard; the dog has been relegated to the yard and only comes in to sleep in his kennel at night. I asked my daughter if we could keep the girls out there too, but she refused.

Mostly, I take it a day at a time, have deleted the month of May from my calendar in favor of babysitting; and marvel that things seem to be going better than expected. I have compiled a loose list of ongoing ruminations while adjusting to life with more of them and less of me; and enumerate them here:

Rumination Number 1: When one is in a fresh marriage (under five years old) one has inklings of stress and tiny spats if adult children and their children visit for a prolonged length of time. After all, one supposes he or she was marrying an empty-nested spouse. When one does not raise, or even know very well, one’s new spouse’s adult children, prolonged visits are sometimes challenging. Especially if the spouse in question has a home office. So it was a God-thing, really…that my husband’s company unexpectedly flew him to Denver for a new project. He is less stressed, I am less stressed, and my kids and I are able to enjoy conversation at varying decibel levels amidst the occasional baby shriek, my daughter yelling instructions to her older daughter, and everyone yelling at the dog to HUSH! when he barks; without me worrying about disturbing my husband. In between panic attacks, I am getting used to it.

Rumination Number 2: Relationships change between mother and adult child when they “come home again,” but not as much as one might think, really. Over a period of time, I can see the child in the woman and the woman in the child and it is quite an interesting juxtaposition. When things are going well, she is the woman-child. When disappointment, fear or stress escalates, she becomes the child-woman. Right now in the midst of international relocation and the ensuing nomadic lifestyle and wondering where they are going to live and how long it will be before her husband finds another job while staying in her mother’s house with two kids and a dog until things are settled is about as stressful as it gets. For both of us. So the child-woman is around a lot, and I find myself reverting to the IBM (In Between Marriages) “Momzilla,” when I was raising four kids by myself.

Fortunately, my ruminations have revealed personal progress in self-control and the ability to repent quickly, and my daughter and I have resisted the urge to give each other a sound kick in the behind. We instead have maximized opportunities to discuss issues that have arisen while trying to merge two very different lifestyles for six weeks. Which, although difficult, brings us closer together. Kind of. Maybe. We should do a mom-daughter check-up when the six weeks is up.

Rumination Number 3: Without this situation, I would not have gotten to spend copious amounts of time with my granddaughters, which has been near-impossible with a Navy family. I love getting to know them and feeling them in my arms. And tripping over them in the kitchen. And giving up any thought of my personal schedule in preference of theirs.

Just kidding about that last part.

I do not wholeheartedly embrace the inconvenience my children and their families bring with them when they visit (extra cooking, extra picking up, extra shrieking and running around the house, changing poopy diapers…overly populated bathrooms…you get the idea) but lately these thoughtful meanderings (alert to those of you that did not look up “rumination,” the two previous words are the definition!) revealed that I had become complacent; selfish, even…with my time and myself. Not a nice revelation. What is life about anyway? A clean house? Order everywhere? My routine undisturbed? Not having to cook every night? A husband devoted to my every wish instead of closeted in his office or a remote location, away from the chaos?

Absolutely.

“Wifezilla comes to the forefront…”

But I am trying to put this stuff on the back burner while I make the choice to grandparent first and housekeep second. Since my husband is out of town, I do not have to deal with that pesky “wife” stuff. Nice timing, Lord. This, at least, keeps the occasional stirrings of “Wifezilla” mode at bay.

Wives, can you imagine a husband in the mix during this situation? Really? If so, maybe you are a better spouse than I am. Please feel free to give sanity maintenance suggestions, all you fellow pseudo-empty-nesters out there.

Rumination Number 4: A grown child may be a completely different person as an adult than the kid you raised. I know my daughter well and we talk on the phone often, but I have not seen her so up close and personal with her kids and a (big, and did I mention energetic?) dog as an experienced mother and wife. A new respect for her is burgeoning in my chest. “Burgeoning” is also a great word to know. You should look this one up too, if you are unacquainted with it.

However, respect is not the same as this attitude:

“I want you and your kids to live with us forever! And the dog, too! And oh yes, the cat that I asked you not to bring because I felt it would push me over the edge! It wouldn’t, really, I know that now! So please, by all means, move in! Empty nesting is not all it’s cracked up to be!!”

Are there grandparents that have this attitude? If so, this is troubling. But back to the respect issue…

Respect for the darling young woman she is becoming does mean that I understand my wonderful, generous, warm-hearted, strong daughter is making her own path and that because of this we butt heads over stuff when we hang out an overly-long time together.

So what? She is amazing. I am amazing in my own way, too, of course. We are just not incredibly amazing for very long, together, in the same house, at this stage in our lives. In fact, I think to inadvertently resurrect the mother-daughter dependency thing after she has “left and cleft” as the Bible says; is to deconstruct some of our amazing-ness in the face of it. It will be reconstructed as time goes on, because we are trusting God to intervene when tempers are short. Our prayers are a little strained, but we know God understands.

My husband absolutely agrees with this, as he has witnessed my amazing-ness disintegrate right before his very eyes as I morphed into “Wifezilla” when my daily routine, housekeeping tasks and cooking avoidant behavior was blasted to smithereens three weeks ago. When his company asked him to be available to come to Denver, he scampered onto that flight nearly skipping toward departure with his bags, barely disguising his delight.

But I knew. I could see relief all over him. He smiled broadly as he waved good-bye at the departure gate. He never smiles broadly as he waves good-bye at the departure gate. He is usually kind of sad to leave me, actually.

In conclusion, this has been, and continues to be, a kind of a Twilight Zone experience. I have no time to do much of anything but be available to the baby and her sister; their mom, try to find time to play with the (big, energetic) dog, look for my cats who are a little freaked out and try to make sure they are eating and using the litter box instead of my carpet due to cat-stress; feed the baby, put the baby down for a nap, change the baby, meet her sister at the bus (if I remember) when she comes home from school, help her with homework, think about dinner (again?! We just cooked last night! Did I mention I do not like to cook?), and etc.

Very Twilight Zone. But somehow very organic and appropriate in a rite-of-passage way. (The organic part meaning I have no time to put on make-up and this is a pretty good word to describe my look lately.) I adore my daughter and her children, in spite of the uptick in activity and stress. Absolutely adore them. I am not, however, enchanted with the dog.

So the good thing about my ruminations is that I think I am coming to the end of my passive-aggressive, puny attempts at control because controlling everyone’s contentment level is impossible, and not my responsibility anyway. I am stating firm boundaries, simply and clearly communicated, when I feel “Momzilla” climbing out of my body and onto my back to shake her hairy fists and yell at someone. I am finding direct, kind communication strangles“Momzilla” into silence. I am also finding my daughter has legitimate reasons for things she does that may stress me out, and there are compromises waiting to be hammered out, umm…worked… out that will satisfy both of us.

I will do an internal system check at the end of the six weeks. There will be further ruminations, further realizations, and hopefully; growth in my own personal development. After all, I have two adult kids that are not even married yet. I hope that I remember all the stuff I am learning right now, for their sakes.

Note: I am so NOT going to have a big dog, ever.