Papa’s got a broken heart

sad-674811_960_720I’ve taken a 2-week hiatus from writing a post for an unfortunate reason – my husband had a heart attack. I’ve spent the last two weeks going back and forth from the hospital while he had bypass surgery and recovered in the cardiac care unit. He’s home now, and I have the awesome responsibility of caring for him while he continues to recuperate.

This event has had many impacts, and one of them is that it’s disrupted my regular care of our granddaughter. Her parents took her to see Papa briefly in the hospital – she caught a glimpse of him through the door – and she’s been by our house to see him, too.

But how do you explain something like a heart attack to a 2-year-old? And why Papa can’t pick her up or hug her like he used to, at least for now?

I’ve had to be strong for my husband, our adult sons and their spouses (who were really freaked out) and now our granddaughter. My own reactions have been all over the map. I’ve been scared, numb, weepy, and one memorable day when the hospital staff was dragging its feet about discharging my husband although he’d been there longer than usual (10 days), I had to fight the urge to punch people who got in my way. I guess “angry” covers that reaction.

Now, Nanas are supposed to be emotionally stable and smell like snickerdoodles. That’s hard to do when you’re getting up in the middle of the night to administer pain medication and spending your days cooking heart-healthy meals, cleaning and doing the loads of laundry that seem to come with nursing someone who’s recovering from open-heart surgery.

We were very lucky. My husband’s surgery went well, and we have every hope that he’ll make a full recovery. With the appropriate lifestyle changes, he’ll be a healthier man.

However, I know life will never be the same for us.

I wish I’d known more about the symptoms of heart disease. We dismissed too many red flags as indigestion or anxiety. I wish I’d insisted my husband take the stress test that a few months ago a doctor recommended in an off-the-cuff way. The irony is, just before his attack struck, he was planning to set up that appointment.

Heart disease is scary, and a husband’s heart attack is every wife’s worst nightmare. But as we’ve found, the head-in-the-sand approach to dealing with heart disease doesn’t work. Don’t be as foolish as we were, no matter how frightened or uncomfortable the subject makes you. Here’s a simple chart of symptoms. If you suspect you or your loved one has any of them, please don’t delay getting it checked out.

Do it for those you love – your spouse, kids, and grandkids. They’re depending on you to take care of yourself.

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Pom-Poms to the Rescue

IMG_20170318_164944My granddaughter loves balls. Or anything that looks remotely like a ball. She often has marbles and rocks jammed into her little fist. Though I’ve taught her that these items don’t go into her mouth, I don’t really trust her. She’ll lock eyes with me and slowly raise the marble or rock to her lips, waiting for me to object.

“No, no,” I’ll say. “We don’t want to eat that. Yuck.”

She’ll obligingly lower her hand, and then watching my face carefully, she’ll repeat the process.

So, to distract her from the rocks and marbles she finds I’ve given her balls of different colors and sizes. It’s worked beautifully so far.

Until recently her biggest ball was a four-inch clear pink glittery one I got at the dollar store. It was so popular that this week I bought her an even bigger ball at a kid’s thrift sale. Her new ball is red with white polka dots and at least a foot in diameter.

I thought she’d love it, but she’s been giving it the cold shoulder. I think the red ball is too big for her to handle right now, mentally or physically. It’s like giving her a Great Dane when what she really wants is a Chihuahua.

In our granddaughter’s toy box are balls that light up if you bounce them hard enough, small balls with bells (actually cat toys), and a soft, squeezy fabric ball. A few months ago I found a pink golf ball, which I washed and gave to her. She was delighted. It fit perfectly in her little hand, and the pink golf ball quickly became her favorite.

 

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A few of my granddaughter’s favorite balls

However, I have growing reservations about this ball because our granddaughter is learning to throw, and she has a pretty good arm for a toddler. Just ask my husband, who had a split-second to duck when he asked her to toss him the pink golf ball and she lobbed it at his head like she was a pint-sized Nolan Ryan. Grandpa will be the first to tell you that his little granddaughter’s speed and accuracy are really improving.

 

For that reason, the pink golf ball is beginning to look like a bad idea, especially in the house. But how do we take it away from her? Anyone who’s around children knows that unless you enjoy tantrums you don’t remove a favored toy without trading something in return. Even if the object in question is clearly, ridiculously dangerous, like a bag of broken glass, you don’t yank it out of their little hands without offering a replacement, like a bag of Styrofoam blocks.

So, to soften the disappearance of the golf ball I thought of pom-poms. I got the idea when my granddaughter came back from daycare with a paper cut-out of the letter P covered with pasted-on pom-poms. She carefully pried each pom-pom off the paper and played with them for the rest of the afternoon.

I went to the craft store and bought a big bag of 300 pom-poms in different colors and sizes. I poured them into a round box and when she saw them she dug her hands right in, grabbing as many as she could and throwing them into the air, laughing. And I laughed with her because I’m an indulgent grandmother and more tolerant of messes than I used to be.

 

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“What fresh hell is this?” thinks our cat.

We stuffed pom-poms into her tea set, into her stacking cups, and wherever else we could think of. As we looked for new places to stuff the fuzzy things, she kept repeating “balls” with enthusiasm. Soon we may start sorting them, by size or by color, if she’s interested. But only if wants to.

 

Now, pom-poms do have some disadvantages. They’re light and fly everywhere. I’ve been finding them under the sofa, under the cat, in the dog’s dish and in crevices all around the house.

But unlike buttons and other small objects, pom-poms don’t seem to be mouth-magnets. If you step on a pom-pom barefoot in the middle of the night you probably won’t hop up and down swearing, like you would if you stumble on a Lego. And if a pom-pom gets thrown at your head, even a big pom-pom, you won’t get hurt.

As for putting pom-poms in her mouth, Little One hasn’t tried that yet, and I’m being vigilant. But I think I could explain a pom-pom finding its way through her digestive system and into her diaper much better than I could a pebble.

Yay for pom-poms!

Weird and Wonderful Gifts for Baby

When to comes to baby gifts, grandparents are under pressure – as the eldest members of the family, they can’t just phone it in with a onesie. We’re expected to come up with something significant.

So I decided to venture into another direction, and research wacky baby gifts. I thought I might find an odd item here or there to elicit a chuckle.

Little did I know I’d find a tacky treasure trove.

Weird baby gifts abound on the web. Most of them are guaranteed to raise an eyebrow or two, and some could even get you laughed out of a baby shower.

But don’t take my word for it. After all, one person’s wacky is another person’s wonderful. Here’s a sampling of what I found – you be the judge:

91gdRVGflAL._SX522_The Babymop. An ingenious combination of a onesie and a sewn-on mop, this gift really delivers on many counts – baby gets exercise, the floors get clean, and it’s a fashion statement. Of course, while dusting the floor the baby also becomes a gunk magnet, but you can just give the baby a good shake over the trash can. And if you want to take it up a notch, use some mopping fluid. You can wring your little wiggler out later.

The iPotty. What parent hasn’t sat for what seems like hours nextPAD-POTTY_3_vertical screen no seat_new_im2_350 to a child on a potty chair, reading books and singing songs in an effort to convince their little ones that using the potty is better than wearing diapers? Now, instead of wasting all that time bonding with their children, parents can leave them in the plastic embrace of an iPotty. This award-winning (Worst Toy of the Year, 2013) device allows a toddler to work on those all-important No. 1 and No. 2 tasks while scanning educational videos, catching up on email and tweeting. It’s a real timesaver for busy tykes everywhere.

TheBabykeepercrpdThe Babykeeper. We’ve all been there – at the mall carrying an infant when nature calls. If you’re alone, where do you put your precious cargo while you attend to business? Babykeeper to the rescue! Now you can just hook your baby on the back of the stall door, just like your coat, purse and shopping bag. It doesn’t look weird at all, especially if baby swings on the open door as you exit the stall. Just don’t forget any of your personal belongings when you leave the ladies lounge!

 Why Cry? Why, indeed? With this baby monitor, you don’t have to work to interpret your baby’s fussy mood. Is baby hungry? Tired? A microchip lets you know. Of course, it doesn’t cover unfocused crankiness and general complaints about the state of the world, which are other valid reasons for a baby to cry. So don’t be surprised if sensitive babies who hate being misunderstood throw this thing at your head as soon as they develop the necessary manual dexterity.

41tLqFVvM3LTravel urinal. Just. Don’t. Do it. As a woman who’s raised two sons, I can tell you that it takes lots of practice – years, really – for little boys to develop an accurate aim. What are the odds that they’ll make it inside froggie’s mouth, especially on the fly when you’re out and about? Sadly, not so good. Don’t give this gift to an unsuspecting mother unless you also include a big box of disposable wipes. (A plastic apron wouldn’t be amiss, either.)

Baby perfume. Sick of that new baby smell? Now, thanks to perfume-makers like Burberry and Dolce & Gabbana you can trade a synthetic perfume for the delicious scent that emanates from a baby’s head. That’s progress!

71ZYPUrE5XL._SX522_High heels. Release your baby’s inner Carrie Bradshaw and accustom her to high heels right from the cradle. Like their grown-up counterparts, these high-heeled shoes are impossible to walk normally in. But then, that’s not the point, is it?

Baby bangs. Embarrassed by a bald grandbaby? Tired of people asking6a0133f30ae399970b0192abea773b970d-800wi if she’s a boy? Then you need Baby Bangs –  a fringe of fake hair attached to a hairband for the follically challenged baby girl. And for those of you who saw the satirical skit about baby toupees on SNL years ago and thought it was just a joke, think again. (If you like, you can revisit that skit here.)

There are more crazy baby items where those came from, which I’ll cover in future posts. In the meantime, you can sleep soundly knowing the perfect baby gift is out there, waiting to be bought and presented to grateful parents everywhere.

“Shh – Elmo”

mv5bmtyzoda3ndgwnf5bml5banbnxkftztgwnzq0odgzode-_v1_As mentioned in a previous post, our 22-month-old granddaughter has developed quite a thing for Elmo.

And I’m beginning to think it’s gone too far.

When she was over the other day I put a Sesame Street video on after her lunch, to keep her occupied so I could eat mine. As I knew she would be, she was transfixed by the moving images, especially when Elmo appeared and started to sing in his unmistakable high squeaky voice.

Quickly finishing my meal and, feeling guilty about putting her in front of the TV, I tried to lure her away.

“Let’s play a game,” I said. “We can do puzzles, or read a book. We got a lot of books at the library today.”

She dragged her attention away from the video for a moment and looked at me. Solemnly she put a finger to her lips.

“Shh,” she admonished, pointing at the screen. “Elmo.”

(Yes, that’s right — my grandaughter shushed me for Elmo!)

That will go down in family lore as one of her very first full sentences  – especially if you don’t count “He up,” which she said a couple of months ago while pointing at a squirrel climbing to the top of our fence.

Her preoccupation with Elmo means that all her old favorite books and videos have gone by the wayside. Now she barely looks up when Baby Beluga swims through the ocean. Old MacDonald doesn’t stand a chance of snatching her attention – he stands alone on his farm, spouting vowels and naming his livestock. And her old book favorite, Baby Ben, continues to cavort, clad only in his diaper, through all sort of adventures without her taking the least notice.

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Red-robed Rajneeshi lining up to see their guru circa 1982 in Eastern Oregon. (Copyright 2003, Samvado Gunnar Kossatz)

Talking to other parents, grandparents and even librarians I’ve come to understand that this fascination with Elmo is widespread. I just hope it doesn’t morph into a cult. Oregonians like me who remember the 80s know a thing or two about cults, thanks to the Rajneesh. Come to think of it, his followers wore red, too. Maybe not Elmo-red, but close enough.

Our son told us that our granddaughter recently woke up from her nap drowsily murmuring “Elmo.” If she had the motor skills she’d draw a big red heart and put her name and Elmo’s in the middle of it. Or if she was in school, she’d be scribbling “Mrs. Elmo” over all her folders.

curious_georgeWho’s going to tell her that Elmo is basically a furry red doll, manipulated by strings and sticks? Not me. She may have to endure similar heartbreaks when she’s older and can’t blame a puppet for her pain.

But there may be hope that her obsession will run its course someday soon. Lately, she’s shown a spark of interest in Curious George. Perhaps we can fan that spark into a flame with the billion Curious George books that are in the library. We’ll see. A mischievous monkey may be no better than a nauseatingly cute red monster.

But if, when our granddaughter hits her preteen years, there happens to be a boy band around that features a fuzzy-haired redhead with a squeaky voice, she may be reminded of her love for a certain Muppet.

If that happens, her current thing for Elmo, in retrospect, may look like a piece of cake.

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Walmart’s Elmo cake

Baby’s First Food

boy-254185_960_720As I sit here, struggling with a massive cold given to me by my granddaughter (ever notice how rosy-cheeked toddlers can look kinda cute with a stuffy nose, but grandmothers not so much?) I find myself reflecting on baby’s first foods.  That may be because nothing appeals to my appetite at the moment, and I couldn’t taste much anyway.

Also, one of my BFF grandmother pals recently told me that her daughter was about to start her 6-month-old infant on solid food in addition to breast milk. We both immediately assumed that baby’s first food would be Cream of Rice cereal or something similar.

Well, we were wrong. This new mother was planning to start her infant daughter on mashed avocado, followed by cooked sweet potato in a week or so.

No cereal in sight.avocado-885272_960_720

Now, there’s nothing nutritionally wrong with that. In fact, vegetables may be a better way to go. But it did surprise my friend and me as veteran moms. For their first solid food, our babies got cereal, just like the “bowl full of mush” in Goodnight Moon. It wasn’t even a question.

And I couldn’t help thinking about the technicolor glory that mealtime was going to be for my friend’s daughter. After all, drool-infused cereal dribbling down a baby’s chin is one thing, but drool-infused green avocado is another.

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A nice dish of poi, ready for baby

But babies are pretty hardy little people, and their first foods reflect the culture of their parents. In Hawaii, a fermented paste made from taro root is a nutritious baby staple. In India, babies aren’t shielded from spices – a popular dish called khichdi combines lentils, rice, and ghee (clarified butter) with a dash of turmeric. And in Peru, babies slurp the seedless pulp of the vitamin-rich granadilla fruit, a variety of passion fruit.

Now, to paraphrase the poet Tennyson, as grandmothers ours is not to reason why, ours is but to do and die, or at least be careful not to criticize our kids’ parenting decisions.  So, if we want to keep on the good side of our daughters or daughters-in-law, we smile and puree the passion fruit.

I remember that when I was a breastfeeding young mother in the 80s my mother was constantly questioning whether my boys were getting enough food. They were. All she did was make me doubt my own instincts. So, I vowed to be more supportive when I was a grandmother.  And I swear, I do not give my granddaughter food that’s not mom-approved (well, maybe I did give her a raisin or two without checking first.)

There are a lot of good, nutritionally-sound options for baby’s first foods if you think outside the cereal box. Nowadays, parents have access to a lot of useful information on this topic, starting with their pediatricians and supplemented by books and websites like HealthyChildren.org, sponsored by the American Academy of Pediatrics.

So, bring on the avocado!

What’s the most surprising food you or one of your children has given an infant? More importantly, did the baby like it or did it need to be scraped off the wall?

Toddler Fun and Games

 

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Setting up for a tea party at Nana’s house

You see them in the library, the grocery store and in the park – grandparents with a toddler in tow.

 

Though I have no factual basis for this, I believe that grandparents are stepping up in record numbers to help care for their grandchildren. I believe it because I’ve witnessed it firsthand: the grandfather sitting patiently with his grandson at a library computer; the grandmother in the supermarket, pushing her granddaughter in a cart; a grandmother and grandfather in the park strolling at a snail’s pace with their wobbly grandchild.

When we’re out with our grandkids we grandparents often exchange knowing smiles, aware of each other in public the same way kids and dogs are.

And then there all the grandparents at home with their grandkids, putting in long hours to help out their adult kids who’re holding down jobs.

When I first started taking care of my granddaughter she hadn’t even started walking yet. I wasn’t equipped, nor did I have clearance from my daughter-in-law yet, to take her anywhere.

I almost panicked at the prospect. She was too young to do some of the things I imagined doing with a granddaughter, like baking cookies, molding shapes with Play-Doh,  or even crayoning in a coloring book. When I started out, I had my grandbaby for the occasional full day while her mother drove to another town for a substitute teaching gig. In my mind, the hours loomed like an eternity. How was I going to fill them?

If you find yourself in a similar situation with a toddler, here are some activities that work for me, and they’re all low or no-cost. These ideas, which I’ve gathered from other parents and grandparents, keep me from relying too much on my TV and other electronic devices to entertain my grandchild. I save the Sesame Street video for when I’m utterly exhausted!

Things to do at home

  • elmo_from_sesame_streetRead read read! (My son used to chant that to me as he backed into my lap holding a book.) I love reading books to my granddaughter, as much as I loved reading to my boys when they were little. I’m glad that I kept a lot of books from that time. I also take advantage of the children’s section at the library. My toddler granddaughter loves books with flaps she can lift, as well as any book that features kittens or, God help me, Elmo. (It may just be me, but I’d rather read a book with Elmo in it than hear his squeaky voice on TV!)
  • Play ball. My granddaughter loves balls of all sizes. She holds them and chases after them like a puppy – she hasn’t figured out yet how to throw them. (My better sense tells me not to hurry that.) You can find big soft balls that are safe enough to play with inside the house, or even make a ball out of rubber bands – your grandkids will think you’re a wizard.
  • kid-1241833_960_720Bubbles! Kids love them. Bubbles do splatter, so I’ve found it best to play with them outside. You can use a commercial bubble wand and solution, or make your own bubble solution with dishwashing liquid (Joy works well). You can even craft an impressive bubble ring out of wire or a bent coat hanger. You’ll want to supervise this activity closely – a popped soap bubble near the eye can sting!
  • Tea parties. You can find a child’s tea set at a thrift store or assemble one yourself. You can set out toddler-friendly food like goldfish crackers or Cheerios, and we pour pretend tea out of an empty pot (you can use flavored water if you don’t mind the spills). And be sure to invite all the dolls and stuffed animals so no one feels left out. It’s extra fun if you can construct a canopy out of couch cushions, boxes, or blankets to give your tea party privacy.
  • Dance parties. Put on some music, grab your grandchild and dance. Bonus points for singing along. Carpool karaoke is fun, too, if you drive your grandkids around. Just watch the lyrics – remember how kids hear and repeat everything, usually at the most awkward times, too.
  • beans-2014062_960_720Scooping and sorting. My granddaughter loves it when I get a couple of buckets or tubs and fill one with dried beans or pasta. I give her my big spoons and measuring cups so she can transfer the contents of one tub to the other. You can use a variety of materials – rice, cornmeal, sand, and birdseed – or whatever you have on hand. A note of warning:  the smaller the material the bigger the mess it makes. I found this out the hard way when my granddaughter used her scoop to fling beans all over my kitchen.

Ideas for Inexpensive Outings

  • son-99746_960_720Go to your local library.  Libraries not only have shelves full of books you and your grandchild can browse and check out, but many libraries also have free group activities, and puzzles and toys for kids to play with, too. You and your toddler can easily enjoy an hour or more there.
  • Take a walk. If weather permits, go outside – bring the stroller but allow your grandkids to walk, too, to better experience their surroundings. Slow yourself down to toddler time and examine every leaf, bug, or rock you come across.
  • Find a park. Play equipment is a blast for kids, as good as Disneyland. You can hold them on a slide, or put them in a baby swing. Depending on the play equipment, you can even climb on it with them. Trust me, they’ll love it.boy-2013567_960_720
  • Explore the grocery store. A chore for you can be an amazing outing for your grandkids. Many of the markets where I live offer children under 12 a free piece of fruit. My granddaughter noshes on banana chunks while we go up and down the aisles, looking at the bins of colorful produce and rows of jars, cans, and boxes. Some stores even have fun carts for the kids to ride in. Thinking of these trips as outings, rather than a chance to get a lot of shopping done, helps me not get too frustrated when she’s had enough and it’s time to leave.
  • Tour a pet store. This is another fun destination, especially on a rainy day. Some of the big box pet stores are like mini-zoos, with birds, lizards, and hamsters in eye-level cages and walls of aquariums to wow your toddler. My friend’s granddaughters love to look through the windows of the grooming salon to watch dogs of all sizes get their fur trimmed.

Here’s a resource with more suggestions, some of which look curious, like squeezing wet sponges. But I’ll give it a go during some long afternoon – and my granddaughter will probably love it!

Another way to help keep grandkids entertained without busting your budget is to scour children’s resale shops and flea markets for games, toys, and books in good condition to keep at your house. Right now I’m collecting old hats, scarves, and purses for a dress-up box for my granddaughter when she’s a little older.

I can always use more ideas. What do you like to do with your grandchildren?

“Sick grandmothers” and other pinch-hitters

cold-1972619_960_720Are you the designated “Sick Grandmother” in your family?

Let me explain. While talking with a group of women the other day, many of whom happened to be grandmothers (funny how I’m constantly running into other grandparents these days) I mentioned that I care for my toddler granddaughter on a regular basis.

One of the women said, “I know how that goes. I’m the sick grandmother.”

At my look of surprise she went on to explain that in her family, whenever one of her grandkids gets sick at school, she gets the phone call from the school nurse to pick him or her up.

That makes sense. Working parents can find it nearly impossible to get time off on the spur of the moment when a kid gets sick at school. Families that have a grandmother or grandfather nearby who’s able and willing to perform that service are lucky indeed.

It got me to thinking that there must be other grandparents who pinch-hit for their working-parent children in other ways as well.

I’ll bet there are Snow Day Grandmas, Field Trip Chaperone Grandmas, and Soccer Practice Grandmas, just to name a few.

valentines-day-1947567_960_720So this Valentine’s Day, how about a shout-out to all the grandmothers and grandfathers that step up and step in for their adult kids when help is needed with the grandchildren? There’s no glamour in picking a kid up at school who’s just barfed all over the Quiet Rug (and yes, that child was me, once upon a time) but grandparents, like parents, do whatever needs to be done for the children in their lives.

Hillary Clinton once quoted an African proverb that says it takes a village to raise a child. Well, if you don’t have a village, an extended family, especially one with grandparents, can make a pretty good substitute.

What about you? Are you a sick grandmother? Or if you’re a parent, do you have a grandmother or grandfather who’s on call for emergencies, and how does that work out for you?