There’s always room for more

We are on Round 61, or thereabouts, of the Rotating Stuff game where family members try to get rid of their stuff by leaving it with other family members to put with their stuff.

We first began playing the game when the kids went to college. They always came home with far more stuff than they left with. When they went back to college each year, they left a lot of the extra stuff behind in bedroom closets, on shelves and under the bed.

“Mind if I leave a few things here?”

“Sure,” we said, “There’s always room for more.”

Sometimes I stood in the doorway of their rooms and shed a tear thinking, “They’re gone but at least we have their stuff.”

We let their stuff be. We didn’t touch their stuff. We let it gather dust and watched as it silently multiplied into more stuff.

Whenever one of them graduated, got a new job and moved into a new apartment, we immediately seized the opportunity to take all their old stuff and move it in with their new stuff.

“How have you managed without these two large wooden oars, snowshoes and 17 crates of art supplies?” we asked.

The score was back in our favor. But not for long. When they each got engaged, they moved back home for a few months before their weddings.

“Mind if I bring some of my stuff?”

“Sure,” we said. “There’s always room for more.”

They brought more stuff. Bigger stuff, heavier stuff. Furniture, small appliances, a big beat-up pickup truck with dual exhaust. The neighbors loved it. Especially when our son fired it up at 6 in the morning or came home late at night.

The day after they each walked down the aisle and said, “I do,” we quickly began moving their stuff out of our place into their place.

The key to winning the Rotating Stuff game is generosity. When you give their stuff back, give ten times as much stuff as they gave to you.

They started having babies and we started accumulating more stuff—cribs, pack and plays, high chairs, potty chairs, sound machines, baby monitors, blankets and toys.

Pacifiers and diapers filled what were once empty dresser drawers. Sippy cups, plastic dishes, bibs and child-size forks and spoons were crammed into the pantry.

“We’re running out of room,” I muttered.

“The closets are beyond full,” the husband lamented.

Then the youngest called. Her little family has outgrown their small home and will be moving. Could we help store some of their stuff?

“The garage is full,” the husband said.

“The attic is packed,” I said.

“What do you need space for?” we asked.

“Three little girls, my husband and me.”

It will be five months before they can get into their house, a new build.

“Sure,” we said. “There’s always room for more.”

I took the mermaid challenge

Holidays do strange things to people. Take Halloween—it made me think I can sew.

I was driving one of the grands home and she was rattling off what everyone was going to be for Halloween. She said she really, really, really wanted to be a mermaid this year, but she couldn’t.

“I don’t have a costume and Mom said we’re not spending money on Halloween costumes.”

“You could make one,” I said, slowly inching toward a giant sticky trap for humans.

“I saw a picture of one, but you have to use a glue gun to make it. I’m a kid, Grandma. I’m not allowed to use a glue gun.”

I glanced in the rearview mirror. Her eyes drooped, her mouth drooped, even her little shoulders drooped. She was resigned to the fact that she would not be a mermaid.

“I could probably make one out of things you buy at JoAnn’s,” she said wistfully, “like that JoAnn’s we’re driving by right now.”

She didn’t ask, she was just dreaming. And then I began dreaming with her. Actually, it was more like an out-of-body experience, because I heard my voice say, “Maybe I could make you a mermaid costume.”

Did I mention I haven’t sewn in a decade? That, even when I did sew, I turned most of my projects into square pillows?

“Really?” she squealed. Her cheeks flushed with roses, her eyes danced and her smile sparkled. She was ecstatic, like she’d just won the Publisher’s Clearing House Sweepstakes.

“You’ll probably have to find out how to make one,” she said, bubbling with excitement. “When do you think that would be? Want me to call you tomorrow to find out? What time should I call?”

The kid had visions of a glittering Disney mermaid costume and I was wondering if Duck Tape comes in green.

“I’ll think about it tonight and call you tomorrow afternoon,” I said.

My phone rang the next day at two minutes past noon. It was Excitement calling.

“Is it done yet?”

Not quite. I’d found something on Pinterest that looked doable—doable for someone with patience and talent, both of which I had none.

Like I let that stop me.

That night I battled a monstrosity of pink netting that kept growing and growing, filling the entire kitchen. As I rethreaded the sewing needle for the 13th time, neighbors may have heard screeching piercing through the windows. That would have been me asking an empty room why the mermaid’s mother didn’t just buy her a costume!

If a little girl comes to your door trick-or-treating and looks like she’s wearing a giant green tube sock with uneven pink ruffle at the bottom, it’s one of my grands.

For the love of children, pretend you think she looks like a mermaid.

I told her not to let anyone examine her costume up close because I don’t want others taking my good ideas. And that she should walk fast, but take tiny steps.

The costume isn’t great, but it may do the trick.

Pretty as a picture — or not

I have just been handed a new portrait of myself. I look like someone who got off the Space Mountain ride at Disneyland and needs medical attention. Or like someone who staggered out of a bar at 3 a.m. after a night of binge drinking. Or like SpongeBob SquarePants’ grandmother—SpongeBob’s deranged and demented grandmother.

It’s not bad considering it came from a 3-year-old. She meant well. At least I think she meant well.

I have new appreciation for the personal secretary of Clementine Churchill, who set fire to a portrait of Winston Churchill. The painting was commissioned by the British Parliament on Churchill’s 80th birthday and was loathed by both the Churchills.

Does one torch a portrait done by a grandchild?

No, not one this funny.

My eyes are askew, and I have a crooked smile, overlapping eyebrows and curly hair wherein each curl looks like a tiny contorted worm. The whole package is encased in a square body, hence the SquarePants family resemblance.

Maybe I’m being vain, but I didn’t think I was the shape of a square. At least not yet. Maybe I’m delusional. They say we never see ourselves the way others do.

Do we ever like pictures of ourselves?

Personally, I prefer all close-ups of myself to be taken at a distance of at least 50 feet.

We often think we look better than we do. Then, when we see candids of ourselves, we are sometimes taken aback.

Me? That’s me?

Who did you think it was?

The camera doesn’t lie.

Thankfully, Photoshop can.

I will say the SpongeBob SquarePants Grandma drawing is better than a portrait another grandchild did. At only age 7 and the child went for stark realism, drawing in every wrinkle and laugh line. My face looks like an unforgiving all-cotton sheet left in the dryer too long.

I’ve given the kid 30 days to redeem herself.

In the child’s defense, I come from a family of wrinkles. Both sides. My mother, whom I will always love for her dark sense of humor, used to comment on my nice skin, then cup her wrinkled face in her hands and say, “Behold your future.”

The publicity photo I use is several years old and should probably be updated with a more current one. A new publicity photo isn’t as simple as it sounds. There’s an art to the publicity photo. You want it to look nice, but not too nice. If it is too nice people won’t recognize you when they meet you in person and will feel tricked and betrayed. It is far better, albeit mildly humiliating, to send out a realistic photo and have people pleasantly surprised when they meet you in person.

“You look much better than your photograph.”

Mission accomplished. Wince and say, “Thank you.”

I may start sending out my SpongeBob Grandma portrait. People should be thrilled when they meet me in person—and ask how long my recovery took.

These boots were made for givin’

Our youngest daughter can be stubborn about receiving gifts and I told her so.

She took it well.

“Where do you think I get it from?” she asked.

“I’m not stubborn when it comes to receiving gifts,” I said. “I used to be, but not now. I’m gracious.”

“And you’re humble!” she cackled.

“Right. I’m gracious and humble when someone gives me a gift. Thanks for pointing that out.”

She has a birthday coming up and we want to get her new boots, cowboy boots. All the females in our family have cowboy boots. We consider them a staple—like chocolate.

She is married, has little ones and, like many young mothers, focuses the bulk of her time and exhaustion on others.

Boots are not cheap, but we wanted to do something special, get her something she could use and enjoy for some years to come, partly because we’ll also teach her how to condition leather cowboy boots properly. But she’s pushing back, drawing a line in the sand—with old and worn-looking boots, I might add.

I pushed back, she pushed back, and we are locked in a mother-daughter wrestling match over stubbornness, receiving gifts with grace and how much is too much to spend on a special gift.

She thinks we do too much. I used to think the same thing about my parents. My parents weren’t extravagant people whose giving knew no restraint, but they were generous.

They kept saying they enjoyed giving, but I couldn’t hear because I was focused on money evaporating into the clouds.

Years ago, I mentioned to a friend that I thought my mother overdid when it came to gifts for our children.

My friend, closer to my mother’s age than mine, looked at me with indignation and said, “Who are you to tell your mother what she can do?”

I wanted to argue with her, but I didn’t. I knew it was one of those moments to file in my memory bank. I didn’t fully understand it then, but I understand it now—now that I’m a grandmother myself and older.

The longer you live, the more you see how very often things go wrong. Marriages crumble, friendships are torn, family members become estranged and accidents and disease tragically cut lives short. There is a brokenness that permeates much of life.

So, when you see life going well, families working hard and growing strong and children thriving, you want to celebrate.

You want to stand on a chair and cheer.

You want to applaud.

You want to buy boots.

It took the seasoning of time to help me understand that giving is an expression of joy as much as it is an expression of love. I understand where my daughter is coming from, but I also understand where my parents were coming from—a place of pure and simple joy celebrating those moments when life goes well.

I love my family, but

I love my family—but.

There’s always a “but,” isn’t there?

But some days. That’s all, but some days.

The Chicago wing of the family was here recently, so the entire clan got together and it was a long weekend. A long, noisy, cluttered, stepping-over-diaper-bags and infant car seats and toys-in-the-kitchen-where-they-don’t-belong weekend.

I fed 34 in two separate shifts. Oh, someone ate the last piece of chicken, so I didn’t have to wrap it up but other than that I was on my own. The kids were watching their kids.

The backyard was littered with water toys, an inflatable water slide, an inflatable pool, plastic golf clubs, wet towels, sand everywhere but in the sandbox, plastic bats and balls, a toddler with a welt on the side of her head and swarms of mosquitoes. Yes, we know it’s fall, but it was a beautiful day and a last hurrah of summer.

My pleas that 11 grandkids would change into swimwear upstairs and not scatter their clothes throughout the house was unheeded. Apparently, my mouth moves, but no sound comes out. Children’s shorts, shirts, tops and underwear were scattered in every room, like a department store trashed after a major sale.

Three times my shoes stuck to the kitchen floor where someone had spilled lemonade. I hadn’t planned on serving lemonade, but when someone asked the husband if they could have lemonade, naturally, he said yes. He always says yes.

I love my husband—but.

I heard a commotion out by the kiddie pool. It was a tussle over the hose and shrieks that someone had deliberately sprayed someone else in the face.

In the glare of the afternoon sun, small ripples in the kiddie pool began looking like ocean waves gently rocking a luxury liner calling my name. It was a cruise ship with porters and stewards in crisp uniforms carrying plated trays of adult hors d’oeuvres—no half-eaten cheese cubes or rubbery fruit snacks shaped like animals.

I saw myself relaxing on deck in a lounge chair, holding an iced fruity drink in sparkling stemware (not some beat-up colored plastic kiddie cup) in one hand and a book in the other. The activity director stopped by to remind me of my appointment at the spa.

Nobody was asking for bandages, sun screen or anti-allergy meds or if I knew where they left their shoes.

It was quiet.

Too quiet.

Where was the loud, curly-headed tot who has named herself “Peanut”? The kid with brown eyes behind big glasses, the one who can never leave without a hug and a kiss? The one who always throws the hand towel on the floor and leaves the water running in the bathroom?

Book a cruise and miss all this? Never.

Well, maybe.

No, never.

They’re all gone now. Sheets have been stripped from the beds, the washing machine is humming, the house is back in order and the kitchen floor is clean.

Tomorrow, I’ll be wondering when they’ll all be back.

As for now, it’s 7:32 p.m., and I’m thinking of going to bed.

I love my family.