Baby Brother Turns Three

We spent a noteworthy week in Alaska in early September that began with a third birthday party full of fun. Baby Brother’s mother arranged for the Anchorage trolley (much like the trolley in the Land of Make Believe on “Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood,” but usually full of tourists exploring Anchorage) to take party goers for a ride – high excitement!

Then home to pizza and a two-layer, construction site birthday cake decorated with a scattering of miniature heavy equipment, three tiny warning-cone candles, and the birthday boy’s name plowed out of Oreo cookie crumbs.

Baby Brother’s first year of preschool hadn’t started yet, so he was a great companion for fall days in Anchorage – game to go outside no matter the weather, and up for a bakery stop after requesting a “breakfast sandwich” (his dad said he wasn’t sure he’d ever had one when I reported that), though he settled for a blueberry muffin. He was completely engrossed in the Anchorage Museum’s Discovery Center’s activities for children – visiting Chompers – a large resident turtle, emptying grocery shelves into a little cart, making enormous bubbles, and building with giant soft cubes.

He’s often absorbed by his own undertakings for long periods of time – stopping occasionally to address a nearby adult with surprisingly complicated language. His comprehension and ability to express himself are impressive. Part of it comes from listening attentively when people speak, he tips his head and gazes into the distance, before interjecting a question.

At the bakery he noticed a woman with silver hair and stylish black glasses, and as she walked by, he said sociably, “You look like Gaga!” (his maternal grandmother). The passerby, recognizing the word for grandmother, said, “oh aren’t you sweet” – a comment often heard about Baby Brother.

This week was also Mr. Carson and Mrs. Hughes’s 10th wedding anniversary! At the end of the week, they went off with the dogs for a tiny getaway to Girdwood. They left during afternoon nap, and when Baby Brother began to stir, Lady B put down her “Go Fish” cards saying, “Let me handle this!” And she did, with a little faux roughhouse and much laughing caused by monsters under blankets.

We read the birthday gift books repeatedly that evening – a Lowly Worm book about his “applecar – and “Richard Scarry’s Funniest Storybook Ever” (which Baby Brother calls, “What Do Funny People Do All Day”). Dinner and bedtime were uneventful (Lady B explained, “first you read to him and then to me”), and everyone slept all night. (These things matter if you are the temporary caretakers!) In the morning, eating pancakes, Baby Brother asked about the dogs, but no inquiry about his parents’ absence.

I attribute that lack of worry totally to his sister – where she is, all is well. We expect so much of the first child, and Lady B steps up. She’s a source of joy to her brother, providing elaborate, imaginative play, initiating “let’s pretend” or “ok, now you be king” games with him. She’s a safe harbor for him and a guide for me – she knows where everything is and how things are done.

My Baby Brother moniker might be outdated very soon – he’s no baby anymore – but very much a little brother with all the good-naturedness that comes with the position!

 

My Best Portrait Ever

In the midst of a week when governments fiddled while the Amazon burned, and continual bad and crazy presidential behavior bludgeoned us, I received a welcome letter from Sweet Baby in the mail. It contained a penline and crayon portrait of me (she says) with long curly hair, a rainbow-skirted dress (with a tiny bow), an apple in a green tree, and a heart for love. Spirits rose!

Summer’s Ending

Waaay too soon – but Lady B begins school today! We talked to all of them last weekend, before they set off for the last of their summer activities.

I am always absurdly glad to have seen them on Facetime – and this time at the end of the conversation, Baby Brother shared some surprising news: “I have a farm in England,” he said, adding that “the cows and pigs have ladders so they can climb to their bedrooms upstairs.”

Who knew!

 

 

Peanut Butter Cookies And Fear

The other day I made peanut butter cookies – by myself for the first time in ages. Recently I’ve had help from one dear little girl or another – Lady B, Sweet Baby, the little girl from next door. They each stood on a little stool to reach the counter while expertly forming balls and squashing them both ways with a fork to achieve the cookie’s trademark crosshatch.

It’s always fun, the cookies delicious and fairly nutritious, and they travelled well this summer – on day adventures here and to Alaska and California. We used this recipe, doubled, and cooked them a little longer than called for.

Such a normal, happy thing to do with children.

But I kept seeing these three little girls in my mind’s eye when I watched the little girl named Magdalena, sobbing and pleading with authorities that she needs her father. I can’t let my imagination go far enough to put the girls I know in Magdalena’s shoes (probably pink and glittery or sporty with velcro), but am well aware of the sheer terror of this experience.

And that’s what we (our American government) visited on children last week – along with the slaughter of people shopping for school supplies and groceries on a weekend afternoon. From conscious will to act with cruelty to failure to protect us from assault weapons – it was quite a week for the occupant of the White House and the Republicans controlling the Senate.

Far from peanut butter cookies, I can’t tie this up, but can’t make sense of it, and can’t not write about it.

Sweet Baby Visits The Neighborhood

The first four mornings of Sweet Baby and her dad’s visit (while her mom flew to her family in Thailand), she attended Kindergym camp at the high school. Gymnastics team members guided three, four and five-year olds as they walked the balance beam, swung on rings, bounced on a long walkway trampoline, somersaulted, and ran!

And each afternoon, Sweet Baby and the five-year old girl from next door played “let’s pretend,” speculated on some imaginative and giggle-worthy, if inappropriate, name-calling to elders, negotiated back and forth about who set the rules, but overall took pleasure in each other and their easy proximity.

In between times, Papa Jim switched from enacting (with infinite patience and imagination that the rest of us don’t possess) Dale or Bob, the farmers (or sometime adventure guys) with Lady B, to princess tales. In these, Sweet Baby dresses in an inherited ballet skirt worn as a headdress as she goes about her royal business.

On long summer evenings we discovered an almost sandy beach across from the ferry terminal, where Sweet Baby searched for tiny shells, and at our favorite beach, she swam in her pink wet suit with her dad. On Saturday, we picnicked at Point No Point Lighthouse beach, and drove on to Port Townsend – our first visit to the old haunts for nearly a year.

A visit highlight was Seattle’s Woodland Park Zoo. Zoos can be hard, but this zoo attempts to provide realistic habitat and supports endangered species around the world. Most of the beautiful animals we saw (charismatic megafauna Mrs. Hughes would call them) live in large outdoor spaces with manufactured cliff faces, moats, trees and shrubs. In a magic moment, as the keepers shut gates across our path, the giraffes, including a baby born in May weighing 122 pounds, walked gracefully right in front of us headed for their barn. (Up close the patterns of their coats are all distinct.)

Reading wins out over most everything for Sweet Baby now. Twice we visited the library for the little chapter books with more text than pictures and read them repeatedly. The zoo day, on the ferry going and coming, we read a Judith Kerr book about a baby seal and a gentleman (now one of Sweet Baby’s favorite words). She’d spot our neighbor John and call out – “here comes that gentleman!”

Other book-learned words suddenly appear. When loading into the car, after fastening her car seat, she’d say: “OK, Daddy, clamber in! In the car we listened to “The Mouse and the Motorcycle,” and every time we “clambered in,” she’d request, “put on the mouse song please!”

My painter friend always comments on Sweet Baby’s open and smiling face – and that’s her personality – quick to engage with new people, always observing other children and moving closer to invite inclusion – and sometimes finding it. She’s expressive and funny and can laugh at herself. She twirls with the gentleman’s wife (who loves to ask her about ballet moves) while wearing the headdress as a skirt. At a stumble she says, “oh my goodness, here I go!”

A late flight on departure day allowed an aquarium visit. Sweet Baby sat right up front by the tank to be close to Diver Kim – and chortled with glee to see the puffins swimming. The tank is transparent, so you realize puffin-swimming looks like flying underwater.

Sweet Baby said she was eager to see her mom, but sad to go. Leaving the airport, after a period of silence, I told Poppa Jim I was sad and asked about him. His reply: “It’s awful.”

Lady B Comes to Stay

Monday morning at Lady B’s sewing camp, 13 girls and one boy, ranging in age from seven to 14, sat right down, each at their own Brother sewing machine, and threaded it! With a foot stretched to reach pedals, they stitched a rectangle spiral, needle down, pressure foot up, pivot. By the end of that first day, they’d made nametags by sewing fabric strips around a white rectangle, a little game board (nine patchwork squares) and playing pieces created by cutting out fabric they’d glued to flattish marbles – oh, and a little carry bag for the game.

Each day they made an object introducing new skills, and with little by way of verbal instruction, they grew accomplished by doing. They made a notebook holder (right sides together, stitching and turning, then top stitching), a pieced owl pillow with tricky pointed ears that needed filling with “fluff,” and a green fleece frog requiring fiddly turns around corners and narrow seams.

The week went so fast – such a pleasure to be with this dear and smart and thoughtful person! Before dinner each evening we ate popcorn and played a complicated dinosaur game (from Rotary and missing a critical volcano piece that we fashioned from cardboard and duct tape) and laughed lots. One evening we took pizza to the beach with our old friends who live on Bainbridge. Lady B waded in the water, then sat with us on the old plastic chairs taking part in the conversation, as the tide rose over our feet.

One memorable day we visited the Seattle Aquarium. Lady B knows much about marine animals, and with her as my tour guide, we saw seals being fed, an otter floating on its back with a shrimp tucked under its webbed foreleg, and Diver Kim in the two-story, salt-water tank feeding Northwest native animals and talking to the human audience through her microphone.

Afterward, we headed to Pike Place Market, and Lady B spotted an elevator making a quick way up (she loves to figure things out now). We visited the comic shop deep in the Market (a popular destination for her dad and brother 30 years ago – it’s changed very little), and Lady B selected two Asterix comics that she and her dad didn’t have. Then on to the Crumpet Shop, where she ate two buttery crumpets (a strong sign of approval because she’s not a huge eater).

Lady B had declared dinosaurs the theme for last year’s visit, and this year – roosters (inspired by the Rotary rooster plate but also finding many roosters around our house). It delighted her to tie things together in a category, a series. We painted while paying more attention to how many layers of glaze an image needs, and how to keep track of them. More visits and we might perfect our results.

Often this visit, Lady B asked about people and events from the past – even inquiring about Nick stories. Does any long time reader remember Nick – Nick who worked on the North Slope and had a breed-changing dog (sometimes a lab, sometimes a collie) named Quesadilla? Nick could wield a chainsaw, drive heavy equipment, ride a motorcycle – even pilot the ferry! In quiet times and on walks, I told the stories I remembered, and said we could find more in the books I have made from my blog each year.

We began by reading Lady B’s first year, all the posts with stories about her birth and Downtown Abbey, and she kept requesting, “another, another.” With only two nights of the visit left, we made it part of the way through her second year – but not to Nick.

Next time.

 

Mr. Putter, Tabby, and Oberon, Too

If you have only two days for a visit with important people, you pack in all the favorite activities. So, no “Borrowed Flowers” today, because I keep thinking about Sweet Baby and her cousins and our time with them.

At ages seven, four, and two, abilities and interests vary, but affections seem of a kind. Elaborate train track set-ups interested all, and provided agility training for the grandparents with tracks and cars and engines scattered about. In a melding of super heroes and princesses, the three play well together (until they don’t, as Mrs. Hughes once said).

Little presents for the visit need to be equal in number and significance. This time, a book for each from Cynthia Rylant’s “Mr. Putter and Tabby” series (neither Tabby nor Mr. Putter have been cute or peppy for a very long time), worked, and led to many readings. Late on Saturday afternoon when Downtown Abbey became the “The Napping House,” Lady B and I sat at the kitchen table, and she, starting with Tabby, drew the characters from the books, while updating me on her life.

During dark times this winter I wondered if I’d ever walk in the mountains again. But, the road into Powerline Pass where we camped over night last summer, provides an easy way into a grand mountain valley for Baby Brother and his granny.

Encouraged by the fleet-footed girls, he determinedly walked the whole way! Whatever her older cousin does, Sweet Baby attempts. When they tiptoed out a fat log into a puddle and neared the end, she asked “Now what do we do?” before gamely splashing down in the leap from log to land.

An inbound hiker told Uncle Tutu that he’d seen a black bear cross the trail an hour earlier, so we walked a mile singing, “no bears, no bears, no bears today” and sat on the flank of Flattop Mountain in a patch of bearberry, to eat our sandwiches and peanut butter cookies. The cousins played in tunnels formed by the “gimme shelter” trees (black spruce bent and gnarled by the wind).

Walking out, luckily before spirits flagged, I remembered “Simon Says” – “take ten steps and do the hula” or “take 19 steps doing the skaters Granny Katy’s physical therapist taught her.” At the uphill just before the parking lot, Lady B took charge: “Simon says run up the hill!”

At breakfast each morning, Mr. Carson is doing a wonderful thing with his children. I didn’t ever get to ask him how or why this came about, but they work on their “lines” (from a Shakespeare play), now “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.” I nearly teared up listening to Baby Brother and Lady B recite lines from Oberon’s speech with such a sense of fun:

I know a bank where the wild thyme blows,

Where oxlips and the nodding violet grows,

Quite over-canopied with luscious woodbine,

With sweet musk-roses and with eglantine:

I loved it – and learned from them about oxlips (a primula found where cattle and oxen graze) and eglantine (wild roses! I never knew). Later that day, when we walked through the Alaska Botanical Garden, the three ran circles around the beds in the Herb Garden until Lady B came to an abrupt stop and shouted: “I found thyme!”

Oh, and another thing, Lady B opened that door to the world’s knowledge, adventure, and pleasure and has become an able reader. When I asked her if it felt like magic, she agreed with a firm nod of her head.

I’m beyond grateful to the surgeon and the physical therapists for putting my knee together to allow more shared experience with these children. When we got home, on a FaceTime call to check in, Baby Brother greeted us with a grin, saying: “Hello Mr. Poppa Jammy! and hello Mr. Granny Katy!”