Kids can’t take these grandparents anywhere

One of the most treasured moments of parenting is taking your children out to eat and having a stranger comment on how well behaved they are.

We know because it happened to us. Twice. OK, maybe it was only once.

As a realist, I am always sympathetic to the embarrassed mother with the wailing infant in her arms or screaming toddler plastered to her legs. Having been there and done that, I often smile and offer support by whispering, “Hang in there. Tomorrow will be better. Or worse. You never know.”

Naturally, as grandparents, we wish for our grandchildren to be well behaved in public places and not create the sort of spectacles that wind up in YouTube videos. When we took four of the grands to Steak ‘n Shake, we went over the expectations for behavior. They all listened attentively and the 1-year-old responded, “Baa, baa, ack!”

Our server showed us to a somewhat isolated table at the back, near the restrooms. Every time she passed by, she left another stack of napkins.

The kids were coloring, folding cardboard cutouts, patiently waiting for their food. When the server brought water (with lids) they all placed them near the center of the table to avoid spills. Milkshakes arrived and they carefully put those, too, near the center of the table.

I nearly expected a stranger to stop by and compliment the children on their behavior.

A few moments later, the child to my right pointed out she had dribbled milkshake on her shirt. Reaching for a couple of napkins, I elbowed her milkshake and knocked it flat. Milkshake instantly flooded our side of the table, rolled over the edge and began cascading in waves into my lap. I was catching milkshake by the handful, throwing it back into the glass and onto my plate. The children were stunned and wide-eyed, probably because they’d never seen Grandma throwing milkshake overhand. The husband hurled napkins across the table. We frantically smeared milkshake from east to west. My clothes were sticking to my body and my shoes were suctioned to puddles of milkshake on the floor.

Wordlessly, our server dropped off another round of napkins.

We hastened the eating along and the husband, being of the waste-not, want-not mindset, offered a glass of milk still half-full to the little one in the high chair. Never hesitant to express her disinterest, she batted the glass out of his hand, sending milk arcing like the beautiful St. Louis Gateway Arch, all of it showering the husband.

The server stopped by with more napkins. The kids were cowering under the table and the baby was inconsolable.

As we stood to leave, the husband noticed that our pants were so soaked that we both looked woefully incontinent. I considered that we might be stopped at the door and asked if we were responsible enough to manage small children.

We delivered the children back to their parents. Our own kids looked us up and down with our splattered shirts and wet pants, and chorused, “What happened to you two?”

“All you really need to know is that we tipped 50 percent of the bill,” I said. “Oh, and don’t be surprised if next time the kids want to go without us.”

 

These canasta players are real cards

I was in a group of women recently when one mentioned that some of them played canasta. I hadn’t heard of canasta since I was a girl in Lincoln, Nebraska and used to play it with my three great aunts in their basement to escape the heat on hot summer afternoons.

They invited me to join their group for a game sometime. I haven’t played in years, don’t remember the rules, and justifiably invite the mocking of loved ones whenever I attempt to shuffle a deck. Naturally, I said, “Sure!”

My new card-shark friends go by the names of Snake, Wild Bill, Doc and Deadwood. Not really. They actually go by Susan, Marleen, Bette and Louella. But don’t let the names fool you – they’re all aces.

We met up and they graciously went over the rules and played a few practice hands. Louella, who has a lovely southern drawl and charm to match, sweetly asked if any of it was coming back to me.

“The part about my aunts warning me to stay away from the sump pump in the basement is coming back to me,” I said, “but other than that, not a thing.”

Susan, who re-taught others the game and is my partner across the table, looked pale. And that was before we were 3700 points behind.

When our score dropped into the negative double digits, Louella took the heat off by saying the good thing about canasta is that it is more luck than skill, which means you can talk while you play.

If there’s anything women do better than trump one another at cards, it is trump one another with stories.

I started the round by asking Louella where she learned to play canasta.

She said Chattanooga, Tennessee. Then she added, “With the grandmother of my friend, Gatewood Anthony Folger.” Everybody looked at her. With a perfect deadpan expression, she continued, “Why yes, and Gatewood Anthony Folger met and married a Greek man named Stavros Papazoglou, which made her Gatewood Anthony Papazoglou.”

Louella played a good hand with that story, which reminded Bette, who learned to play canasta as a girl in Chicago with a neighbor and her grandma, that she had a college friend named Paula Penny Pecker. She later married a man with the last name of Chicken which then made her Penny Chicken.

Marleen, who had cards everywhere on the table making melds or mold (I wasn’t sure which), upped the ante by saying that her best friend Ruth knew a gal named Olive Pickle.

It was back to Bette, wasn’t about to fold. She met Marleen’s story about Olive Pickle and raised the stakes by mentioning that her last name is Fortino (pronounced four-teen-o). She said when she and her husband make dinner reservations “for Fortino,” they often arrive to find a table set for 14.

The story play passed to me. It was too rich for my blood, but I played the best I had: “My best friend from childhood went to a doctor named Dr. Savage and a dentist named Dr. Butcher.”

We were back to Louella. Without so much as cracking a smile, she said that she and her husband knew a man in Mississippi named Hap. It was short for Happy.

Long pause. Waiting, waiting.

His last name was Easter.

Louella wins.

Lost teddy nearly unbearable situation

There was a small birthday party at the house the other day. Amid the whirlwind of people leaving—with kids scrambling for shoes and jackets beneath remnants of tissue paper and toys scattered everywhere—a bear was left behind.

I didn’t know a bear was hibernating here until I was tossing plastic cookware into the little wooden cupboard and uncovered the creature sleeping under a green apron.

Not knowing whom the animal had come to the party with, I put out a BBB (Brown Bear Bulletin): “Found: small brown bear, sex and age unknown, matted coat, black beady eyes, small ears, upturned mouth and corduroy paws. Any takers?”

The owner identified her 3-year-old self and relayed a message through her mother asking if Teddy was OK.

I said the bear was fine and snapped a picture of Teddy laid out on the kitchen table.

In retrospect, I can see that the picture may have been somewhat unsettling, a bit stark perhaps if not downright cold. It may even had the hint of Teddy being prepped for surgery.

Then came a question, “What was Teddy doing?”

I could hardly say getting ready for a hernia repair, so I quickly staged a picture of Teddy to put her little mind at ease. One of the kids had stormed the house with helium balloons announcing, “You can’t hab a potty wifout bawoons!” I tethered the balloons to the bear and sent a picture saying Teddy was having fun on my desk, hoping that was the end of it for the time being.

I probably wasn’t as sympathetic to the trauma of leaving Teddy behind as I should have been. I never had a blankie or toy I held onto as a kid at bedtime, nor did any of our children. But our grandchildren do. Their cuddle artifacts of choice range from plush toys to dolls, blankets with fringed edges, worn burp cloths, locust shells in a small box and a red metal tractor. Sometimes there are so many toys, blankets and oddities in the bed there is barely room for the child.

I considered whether the child would have difficulty sleeping without Teddy, and if I should drive Teddy across town. “I don’t think so,” I said aloud looking directly at Teddy. Moments later, Teddy’s eyes began to move. If I leaned to
Ted and balloons the right, Teddy’s eyes moved right. If I leaned to the left, his eyes moved to the left. Teddy was the Mona Lisa of bears.

Teddy followed my moves as I passed in and out of the room throughout the evening, glaring sometimes, casting a “just you wait and see” look at others.

When I closed down for the night, I gave Teddy one last glance. His smile had turned to a smirk.

The next morning all the balloons that Teddy had been holding were on the ground. There weren’t any puncture marks, but I had my suspicions. I received an early call asking if Teddy was still having fun with the balloons. I explain the balloons had mysteriously deflated in the night. There was an audible gasp, followed by the silence of disappointment.

Teddy looked straight ahead and avoided eye contact.

Fine. You win, bear. I’ll take you home today.

Mass confusion only a text away

I’m not saying the lightning speed of communication is dangerous, but I was recently caught in a text thread moving so quickly that I nearly found myself committing to taking a hot dish to the home of a woman who lives 500 miles away and converting to Catholicism.

My sister-in-law sent a group text with a picture of the sun setting in a fury of orange and red in the pasture behind their house. Most in the text thread were identified to me only by phone number, but based on the area codes I had a hunch her seven siblings were among them. Someone immediately shot back:  “This is my idea of a beautiful sunset” with a picture of a pink flamingo in front of a pink sun on a beverage glass from a bar somewhere in Florida.flamingo

Being that all of us have been conditioned to immediately respond to every ding and chime, my cell began lighting up with unfamiliar phone numbers weighing in on who preferred a sunset on a bar glass to a sunset in the great outdoors. I cast my vote for a sunset outdoors. At last tally, the two were running neck and neck with a 90 percent margin for error due to the bar glass in Florida voting multiple times.

The thread abruptly changed to “Why don’t we get together at Mom’s?” Clearly, they meant my sister-in-law’s mom, but if I attempted to pull myself out of the thread with a “Don’t count on me,” it could trigger a flurry of texts demanding to know what I had against Mom. I sent a “Sounds good.”

“How about Sunday?”

I liked the way this was taking shape. And so quickly.

“How about ham?”

The only thing better than a get together on a Sunday is a get together that involves ham.

“What are the rest of you bringing?”

I started to text, “Cheesy potato casserole” when I realized it would mean an 8-hour, 500-mile drive. The casserole would be cold and congealed and I wouldn’t have time to drive home by Monday morning. I didn’t commit. I waited nervously for a text flashing, “Everybody needs to bring something!”

Instead there came a “See you all after mass.”

I couldn’t pull out now by texting that I wasn’t coming to mass, as others would ask what I had against mass. I have nothing against mass. I speak to a lot of Catholic groups and nobody gives a warmer welcome and makes you feel more at home, but I am not Catholic.

So there I was, the dangling thread who had voted against the pink flamingo on the bar glass, was miffed at Mom, refused to bring a hot dish on Sunday and had issues with the Pope. All in a matter of minutes.

I talked to one of my nephews a few days later and asked how the Sunday get together after mass was at his grandma’s. He was puzzled and asked how I knew about it.

I said a pink flamingo told me.