Grand old house is a playful mess

The story of choice for one wing of the grandkids right now is “Peter Rabbit” by Beatrix Potter. Part of the attraction is the sheer scandal of it all. Every time an adult reads the story, the kids exude wide-eyed disbelief that a bunny disobeyed his mother (gasp!), ventured into Mr. McGregor’s garden (gasp!) and safely made it home again (the sweet exhale).

Not long ago their mother was driving along and said, “Look, a rabbit is crossing the road. I wonder if it is Peter Rabbit.”

A 3-year-old in the backseat said, “Does he have on a blue jacket?”

They live in the magic of childhood where the walls are papered with wonder and innocence and all things are possible.

When the grands come to our house, they often play dress-up. They dip into a big basket of old clothes – fur stoles I made for the girls ages ago, what was once my best pair of red high heels, reindeer antlers, a pirate eye patch, a plastic crocodile head, a sailor hat, a construction hat, red bandanas, beads, more beads, a plastic stethoscope, aprons, a pioneer bonnet and a play sheriff’s vest and old leather holster.

One of our daughters commented that not many little kids play dress-up anymore.

Pity.

The grands often move the little play table and chairs around and know that the sofa cushions are fair game. Several of them (the ones that should form a Three Kids and a Truck business) have even been known to shove furniture into configurations of their liking. Sometimes I’ll move all the kitchen chairs into the family room and cover them with a big sheet. It’s a fort, a hut, a school, a baby crib, a tent and a jail.

I met a woman who said she doesn’t allow kids to turn the house upside-down.

What’s a house for?

One day this summer, when six of the little bugs were here, they dragged every ball, broom, bucket, hose attachment and water toy they could find in the garage to the backyard. There was running and yelling and screaming and falling down and crying and getting sprayed in the face.

By the end of the day the Slip ‘N Slide was barely spitting water and had decimated a wide swath of grass. Sidewalk chalk was floating in big galvanized tubs filled with water. A pair of swim trunks was half-buried in the sandbox. Random tennis shoes, beach towels, empty juice boxes, remains of PBJ sandwiches crawling with ants, bubble wands, toy trucks and plastic shovels were strewn from one end of the yard to the other. Even a screen had popped out of a door. The place looked like hillbilly heaven.

It may well have been the best day of summer.

Sometimes it is freedom that fuels the imagination. Unbridled play, the mess of paint, the squish of clay, and unconventional uses for conventional things all burn energy, fire brain cells and broaden the horizon.

A measured wildness, free play and blue jackets on rabbits are sheer delights that fill the fleeting span of childhood. Do they entail messes that cry to be cleaned? Almost always.

But surely there is no better use of time.

Plaid returns dragging a checkered past

A press release I received said that what a girl wears on her first day of school is as important as what she wears to prom.

It sounds like a lot of pressure. Maybe it’s true. But if the first day of school is akin to prom, can you still arrive for classes on a bus, or is a limo in order?

If that’s not bad enough, there is even worse news in the world of fashion: Plaid is back.

Plaid was the fabric of my childhood—a fabric I will gladly return to the ’60s. Schools required girls to wear skirts and dresses back then. Everything I wore was plaid. Red plaid, purple plaid, green plaid, brown plaid.

I had a plaid wardrobe that would have gotten me into any Catholic school in the city, but I wasn’t Catholic. The only solid colors I saw were in my Crayon box.

All of my childhood memories are in plaid. There was the kindergarten red plaid dress with the white Peter Pan collar. There was the brown plaid dress that was a staple of early elementary. Before fourth grade a big box from our Sears catalog order arrived with our back-to-school clothes. We tore into it with the excitement of Christmas morning and there it was, a short-sleeve, drop-waist dress in maroon plaid. I had now worn every color on the color wheel—in plaid.

In all my school pictures, I am wearing plaid. Wild curly hair and plaid. Maybe the plaid was an attempt to distract from the hair. It didn’t work.

By seventh grade I’d finally grown tall enough to shop where other girls my age shopped. It would be “so long, kindergarten plaid.” My mother took me shopping and bought me a beautiful wool skirt. It was plaid, a faux wrap-around sort of thing with a big gold safety pin. I developed a fondness for bagpipes.

I even had plaid pants. In home economics, every girl had to sew a pair of pants with a side zipper. I sewed plaid. Self-inflicted plaid. Who does such a thing to themselves?

To this day, plaid gives me bad fashion dreams, a deathly fear of wool car blankets, and I am unable to sit on a plaid sofa.

Well, now they’re back—plaid dresses, plaid coats, plaid skirts, plaid shoes, plaid accessories and plaid pants. Just when you think there is nowhere plaid has not gone before, a clothing chain carrying fashionable plaid debuts the ultimate in plaid accessories—plaid leggings. A moment of silence, please.

Let me word this carefully. Leggings are, shall we say, delicate territory even when they are in a solid. But leggings in plaid, on an adult, perchance a well-endowed adult, will be a visual challenge to the person following. Plaid in motion. I don’t know that it’s been done before. But isn’t that the point of fashion?

I suggest proceeding with caution. And preferably solids. Stripes if you must, or even animal prints, but, please—easy on the plaids. I speak from experience when I say recovery takes years.

Chance of hearing commercials is remote

By my calculations it’s been four years since I last heard a television commercial. I see the people and their lips are moving, but no words come out. You-know-who has gotten, shall we say, a little aggressive with the remote control. A little aggressive nothing—he is two shakes shy of maniacal.

Particular commercials tend to annoy him. Or at least they used to; they can’t annoy him much anymore, now that we rarely hear them. Sometimes it is annoying background music, or a classic rock tune being twisted for commercialization, that sends him diving for the remote. Other times it is an annoying voice.

Case in point, he wants to know why the GEICO gecko, and that’s GEICO as in Government Employees Insurance Company, has a British accent. Because of that incongruity, the gecko pays. Mute.

Sometimes it is a combination of annoying music and annoying voice combined. In those cases he has been known to sprint in from a different room in the house to mute them. And the doctor asks if he’s getting enough exercise.

Now that our commercials are on mute, I often try to guess what product a commercial is shilling. I go for speed. It’s like ringing in on Jeopardy, only with no competitors.

The problem is, my first guess is always the same. Having been scarred by the many, many, many commercials for men seeking help with intimacy issues (prior to our current mute policy), I am now likely to guess that nearly every commercial is for one of those pharmaceuticals.

Being that most of the commercials truly are for prescription drugs of one sort or another, I like to release the mute toward the end to hear all the dreadful warnings of things that may happen if you actually take the drug, hoping it may scare me into a healthier lifestyle.

I will say there are commercials that I not only mute but turn the station. Those would be commercials for products for women which seem to be getting more graphic (the commercials, not the women) each week. I liked it better when that genre of commercial featured a female running down the beach or whispering to her mother and the voiceover was vague and discreet. You didn’t know exactly what it was, but you knew it was for females and that was enough. Of course, that was in an age of privacy long before anyone foresaw an oversexed Georgetown coed demanding that taxpayers pay for birth control. (I’ve always wondered why she stopped short and didn’t demand coverage for deodorant, toothpaste, hair products, razors and shaving cream.)

Commercials aren’t the only things we have trouble hearing. Our youngest daughter was here when the news was on TV and remarked that she didn’t know how we could hear the news when we constantly talk over the news. I explained that we already knew the news, we just watch the news to comment on the commentators—their voices, hand gestures and whether they dress the part or look like they just stopped by the studio on their way to a bar to meet someone from match.com.

Actually, we don’t watch much television due to the proverbial saying, “There’s nothing on.” Still, I enjoy turning it on from time to time simply because it is fun to see the husband move fast.

Fit to be tied in new car seats

Our daughter-in-law just bought a new car seat for their oldest who is 5. The child will be safe and secure, which of course every parent and grandparent wants. But with a few more car seat purchases like this, the kid can kiss higher education goodbye.

The silver lining to this cloud is that she can stay in this car seat until she is 62 inches tall and weighs 120 pounds. Given the family DNA, she could be in this car seat on her way to prom and even when they drop her off at college—providing there’s any money left considering the expense of car seats.

You don’t just buy a car seat today, you go for a fitting. Stores let prospective buyers take a car seat off the shelf and to the parking lot to try it out in their vehicle. The experience is similar to test driving a car, but you never leave the lot and don’t get to enjoy the new-car smell.

If you like the car seat, and it fits with the other car seats for your other children, you return to the store and sign up for the 5-year payment plan. Just kidding. You swipe your plastic and wait for the pain that will come at the end of the next month.

Today’s car seats are marvels with cushy upholstery, great back support, tilt options and beverage cup and juice box holders. My only suggestion would be that manufacturers start including built-in electronic charging ports for children whose parents force them to stay in car seats well into their teens. (Preferably rear-facing. Just hug your knees up to your chins, kids. Yes, the football team will make fun of you, but that’s life—and why schools have anti-bullying programs.)

Our children rode in molded infant car seats that were basically open buckets on an incline. There wasn’t the convenience of snapping a carrier in and out of a base. My generation lunged into the backseat, wretched our spines, twisted our necks and shoulders, and threw hips out of joint to secure a baby in a car seat. Such is the price of love. This is also why we stayed home a lot.

Our children, who are all married now and parents of infants and toddlers, have asked how we traveled in automobiles when we were infants. I tell them that our mothers and fathers just let us roll around on the floor of the backseat, because that’s what their parents did to them and they thought it would build character. Truthfully, I believe we were toted about in little baskets that were either placed on the front seat or the floor of the front passenger seat.

Of course, we also were allowed to ride in the back of pickup trucks. Naturally, I feel obligated to say that the experience of the wind blowing in your face, your hair whipping your eyes and watching clouds of dust spin on a gravel road was not fun. Absolutely not. Riding in the back of a pickup today is something I’m not sure even dogs are allowed to do. Nor should they. Put them in a dog seat. Rear-facing. At least until they are 5’ 2” or weigh 120 pounds.