Some grand points on name calling

With 11 grandchildren clustered somewhat close together in age, there are bound to be times when sparks fly. I happened by smoldering fireworks when one was lounging in a bean bag chair and a cousin was standing adjacent to him looking distressed.

“He’s name calling,” she said, nodding toward her cousin who was working hard on his best 6-year-old poker face.

“Is that right?” I asked.

He raised one eyebrow and was noncommittal. He might have; he might not have. He was as innocent as a Cheshire cat with a small bird feather stuck to the corner of its mouth.

“What name did he call you?”

“He called me Mr. Blueberry Muffin Mix.”

“Mr. Blueberry Muffin Mix is not name calling,” I said. “Name calling would be—well, never mind, but blueberry muffin mix isn’t really name calling.”

“But it’s not my name, so it’s name calling,” she insisted.

She had me there. Him, too.

“Your mother is upstairs making blueberry muffins for everyone. I’m sure he saw her working and that’s why he called you Mr. Blueberry Muffin Mix. He’s just being silly. Ignore him.”

“I can’t.”

“Why not?”

“Because he called me another name, too.”


“He called me G-g-g-graaaa.”

“I can’t understand you. What did he call you?”

“He called me GRANDMA!” she wailed.

“Grandma? That’s my name! That’s a beautiful name!”

I acted like I was crying, too, because my name had been used as a taunt. The precious little ones, the very ones who have showered me with construction paper bouquets and homemade cards scrawled with the words, “I love you,” were now using my name as a taunt.

Et tu, Brutus?

“Why, Grandma is one of the loveliest names in the world,” I said. “It’s Latin for survivor. In the Greek it means, ‘she lived to tell about it.’”

“But I’m not a grandma!” she wailed.

The Cheshire cat was scanning the room for exits. He knows this grandma doesn’t just hand out cookies; she hands out the long arm of the law, too.

“You called her Grandma?” I asked.

“Yes,” he confessed.

“I’m going to assume you meant that as a compliment.”

He nodded vigorously.

I sent the verbally wounded one upstairs for a blueberry muffin.

I circled back by the bean chairs a minute later and saw the younger sister of the one who had been called Mr. Blueberry Muffin Mix leaning over the cousin still lounging on the bean bags.

Five years old, the loving and gentle child who rarely speaks above a soft whisper, was shooting fire from her crystal blue eyes, hissing at her beloved cousin, “Did you tell my sister you’re sorry?”

He looked scared. I was, too, frankly. Nobody knew she had it in her. It was more shocking than hearing the name Grandma used as a taunt.

Family. It’s what we do best.


Good manners help him worm his way out

There are certain things you never imagine yourself saying.

“I just got a worm in my eye!” is one of them.

And yet I did say it. Screamed it actually.


The family was all here and we were cranking homemade ice cream outside when I saw a worm nearby. I asked a six-year-old grandson, lover of all things creepy and crawly, to come remove the worm.

Delighted at the request, he picked up the worm, studied it briefly and then gleefully threw it into the air.

In hindsight, which is always 20/20 – unless you have a worm in your eye—I should have said, “take it to the trash,” “toss it into the grass,” or “throw it toward the equator.” But instead, I simply asked him to get rid of it, which is what he did by launching it into space.

Unfortunately, once airborne, the worm arced and fell back to earth, landing on my left cheek bone snuggling against my lower eyelid.

That’s when the screaming started. And the jumping up and down.

You know how they say when you encounter a small creature, that the small creature is just as afraid of you as you are of it? They lie. The worm demonstrated no fear whatsoever. I, however, am still hyperventilating, and the worm landing was several days ago.

The important thing in all this (next to the worm being disposed of) is that a little boy said he was sorry.

I’d just been reading a book that makes a correlation between adults doing the slow and hard work of instilling manners in children and greater levels of civility in society. Table manners, language manners and even manners in dress all reflect levels of self-restraint and self-control. Having a measure of self-control limits what we say and how we behave, making many of us appear a good deal better than we really are. Good manners also have the potential to make mealtime a pleasant experience. Even with small children. Eventually. Be patient—another mark of civility.

All of our grandchildren, except for the ones that can’t yet talk, ask to be excused before leaving the table. It is a sign of respect to others at the table and a sign of respect for the meal itself. It’s also more pleasant than pushing one’s chair back and bolting for the backyard.

Those tall enough, and even those not tall enough, also take their dishes to the sink. Surprisingly, we’re only out one small plate and a drinking glass, a small price to pay for teaching manners.

Manners are what civilize us— around our tables, in our families, homes and our communities. Manners are what allow the many diverse parts to function as a whole.

So when a little boy has the courage to apologize to a grandma who is screaming and jumping up and down, let it be noted that in one corner of the world we are still inching toward civility – one worm at a time.

We do because we can

Our son sent a video of their 17-month-old daughter climbing on a stool in front of the bathroom vanity, hoisting her arms onto the counter top, holding up her entire body weight, while with her chubby legs dangled above the step stool. She turned on the tap, leaned in and got a drink. Then, still holding her body weight with arms, she swung one leg into the sink and held her foot under the stream of running water.

Why? Because she could.

One winter day, two of our grands moved all the furniture in the front room around while I was working in the kitchen – heavy furniture, including a piano.

Shocked, I asked why they did it. The answer? Because they could.

A friend’s five-year-old son gave his little sister, the one with amazingly thick, beautiful, raven-black hair, a short haircut.

Because he could.

When our son was 6, he managed to pull apart our dining table by himself and inserted the heavy leaf that extended it to seat eight.

Asked why he did it, he said he thought maybe someone would stop by for lunch—and because he wanted to see if he could.

When my husband and I go somewhere, because he was a news photographer for years and knows every crook and bend in the city, he will take side streets, claiming it will shave a minute or two off our time.

Why does he take the shortest route? Because getting somewhere fast was part of a job he did well.

And because he can.

We all want to know if we can.

We want to know the things we can do and the things we can do well. We want to know where we might succeed and soar.

Children don’t run just because it is fun; they run because they want to know how fast their legs will carry them. Boys roughhouse, not just to drive their parents nuts, but because they want to know if they are strong.

Kids paint and draw because they want to know if anybody else can tell that the blob on the paper with four legs is a horse. Children at the beach build sand castles to see if they can create something that will remain upright. At least until the tide comes.

At every age and in every season of life there is satisfaction in finding the things we can do well—small things or big attention-grabbing things. They might be things like drawing, building, teaching, cooking, coding, composing, creating, exploring and experimenting, managing numbers, plotting projections or mastering the art of nurturing others.

Every magnificent building we survey, every bridge that carries us across water, every computer we work at, every mechanic that gets us back on the road, every health worker that treats us, every work of art that moves us and every meal that is a delight to the senses, exists because someone discovered they could.

And then they did.

One of the best parts of life is discovering what we can do well and doing it—simply because we can.


Why carrots are incredibly costly

The skyrocketing cost of groceries is unbelievable.

I asked the husband if he would stop by the store on his way home to pick up a bag of carrots.

He even texted to ask if I wanted the baby carrots or the big ones.

“The big ones with the shrubbery still attached,” I texted back. We were tracking now.

When he arrived home and walked in the kitchen, I calmly asked how much the carrots cost.

“Thirty-seven dollars,” he said with a straight face.

“That’s astounding,” I said.

“Don’t I know it,” he answered, shaking his head.

He proceeded to plop the “bag of carrots” on the kitchen counter and unpack them.

He pulled out two packs of high-salt, high-fat deli meat, a container of pasta salad floating in mayonnaise, potato chips, cheese crackers, gourmet cookies and a box of ice cream.

Oh, and carrots.

“Guess you picked up some extras, huh?”

“Yep,” he said, beaming, “I bought all the stuff you never buy.”

“The fact that I never buy that stuff is the reason you are alive today,” I say.

I used to protest his shopping style, but several years ago I decided, in the interest of marital harmony, to let it roll.

I have a choice. I can go to the store myself, pick up the one item I need and pay market price, or I can ask him to stop by the store, knowing that the one thing will mushroom into 15 and the cost will multiply exponentially, but figuring it is offset by saving myself half an hour.

He went to the store for milk one night last winter and came back with milk and a sled. Sleds aren’t in the dairy aisle.

They’re not even in the grocery store. Sometimes it’s better not to ask.

Last week he stopped to pick up bread. He arrived home, opened the door and there was a tremendous clatter as 30 water blasters he scored on clearance dropped to the floor. Water blasters are long, brightly-colored plastic tubes that can shoot streams of water into the next time zone. There was one for every adult in the family and two for each of the grandkids.

He went for dish soap once and came back with soap and a little wooden soccer game with little wooden players you can move up and down a miniature field with tiny levers. I’ve been going to the same grocery for 20 years and I’ve never seen a miniature soccer game.

The man has an eye for detail while I tend to focus on the big picture.

Together, we have a full brain.

One of our daughters stopped by after the husband had bought carrots. She opened the pantry cupboard and said,

“Looks like Dad’s been shopping again.”

“Why do you say that?” I asked.

“There’s a lot of good stuff to eat in here. You know, all the things you never buy.”