Owen and the Story of Madeline

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Madeline by Ludwig Bemelmans (book and soft doll)

Madeline by Ludwig Bemelmans

Don’t you just love that moment when a child makes a connection to a book? At first it’s just a story. Then, in the blink of an eye his face reflects the realization that this book has special meaning for him. Owen had such a moment yesterday with the story of Madeline by Ludwig Bemelmans.

The book was first published in 1939 and some of the drawings and storyline are terribly out of date but that didn’t matter to Owen because the basic premise resonated deeply within him. Little Madeline, who attends a boarding school, went to the hospital to have her appendix removed. She emerged from the operation with a scar or stitches and gifts. Her classmates cried jealous tears wishing something similar would happen to them.

Owen’s brother recently took a trip to the hospital for stitches in his chin and also received plenty of attention for his trouble. Owen made the connection during our very first reading. Under the picture of an ambulance, the text read, “in a car with a red light they drove out into the night.” “Madeline is going to the hospital in an ambulance,” I explained.

“JACK went to the hospital!”

“Yes, I know.”

On the next page we see Madeline’s hospital bed with a crank. “The crank makes the bed go up and down.”

“Like Jack have?”

“Yes, Jack had a bed that moved up and down too.” I showed him a photo on my phone of Jack in his hospital bed. Owen leaned forward, to concentrate harder. He was hooked.

At the conclusion of the book he had no doubts about what was happening when the other little girls began to cry, “Boohoo! We want to have our appendix out too!”

“Them wants to go to the hospital and get stitches too,” Owen solemnly informs me.

“Yes, they do.”

“Like me.”

“Like you?”

“Yes.”

“It’s not really fun to go to the hospital you know. Do you want to see Madeline’s stitches?”

Looking at the Madeline doll

Looking at the Madeline doll

Owen nodded. I got the soft Madeline doll that had come with the book when his great-Grandma gave it to his mom and aunt. “Look at her belly.” Owen pulled up her coat and moved her underpants down. He ran his finger over the black stitching representing her scar. He put the pants back and looked at me.

“Read again.”

We did. Multiple times. We read it for the naptime story and the snack time story and just because he wanted to hear it again. With each reading, his connection grew. He traced his finger over the vines on the old house in Paris. He learned that “breaking bread,” means “eating.” He began to recite some of the couplets with me and to offer his own insights. “Them breaking they bread. Them eating it!”

He enjoyed seeing the girls brush their teeth and use umbrellas and was excited to see them ride in a “school (city transit) bus.” When the little girls “frowned at the bad” thief Owen excitedly interjected, “Him is taking all the monies!” He understood that the girls were sad because they saw someone on crutches. “Him broke his feet!”

As a child with a past history of running into the street unexpectedly, Owen really appreciated how it was that “nobody knew so well how to frighten Miss Clavel.” “She’s scared because that’s so high and she could fall down!” He took note of Madeline’s bed, the empty bed when she was in the hospital and how all the little girls got out of their beds when the doctor came.

In the middle of one night
Miss Clavel turned on her light
And said, “Something is not right!” 

Madeline's stitches

Madeline’s stitches

As I reach the word “light” I pause so Owen can contribute the last line. “Hey, somefing is wrong here!” he shouts. I smile. Things may not be right in Madeline’s world, but everything is just peachy in mine.

 

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Ping

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Ping

Ping

Owen arrived tired, having slept very little the night before. His mama had every expectation that a grumpy day would ensue. It didn’t. He broke into song as I delivered his breakfast, “It’s Owen’s Grandma Day, Owen’s Grandma Day, I gonna play, I like fruit snacks, I like fruit snacks, it’s Owen’s Grandma Day….”

He flashed a grin, “I have fruit snacks!”

“I know! Mommy told me. Do you want to eat them for your snack later?”

“Yes,” he whispered. Owen and his brother have a mysterious tendency to whisper their responses on random occasions.

Our routine has been well established and as I wipe his face and hands he recites the particulars, “now I go potty and brush my teef, then we play!”

In the bathroom I apply the paste, and Owen brushes carefully. “Your turn,” he announces and I brush a bit more.

“Now go potty.”

“No! You forget to brush my hair so I be handsome!”

“Oh gosh, yes! We need to brush your hair! I did forget.” Owen likes to have his bangs brushed to the side and his cowlick slicked down with a bit of water. It won’t last, but he looks in the mirror and smiles. “Do you like it?”

“Yes!”

“Let’s get your clothes on and you can choose some toys.”

Ping Uses the Potty

Ping Uses the Potty

Owen selects carefully: some macaroni and plastic jars in a bin to feel and pour; a toy coffee maker; a doll-sized high chair; his old potty chair; a doll cradle. “I want the hat and clothes,” he says as he rummages around in another bin. “Where is them?”

“I think maybe they are still in the cradle?” They were. Owen has everything he needs and his face glows with happiness. Today, as always, he has brought his stuffed penguin, Ping. He has another friend with him too that brings a lump to my throat.

“You brought BROWNIE!” Owen smiles. He knows he has something very dear: his mama’s own special stuffed rabbit friend from her childhood. Brownie is as dear a memory to me as he must be to my daughter. In my mind’s eye I see her clutching him as I tuck her into bed. Brownie is seated on Papa’s wingback chair to observe the proceedings.

The first order of business is to dress Ping. His large penguin feet are difficult to smoosh thru the leg holes, so Grandma must help. Next, Ping eats a breakfast of dry macaroni while perched in the high chair before story time.

Ping likes the story of Pip, the Adelie penguin who is three years old, just like Owen. “How old are you, Owen?”

“Four!” he shouts. I tickle him into admitting he is actually three. “Ping is four,” his grin announcing that he will have the last word.

“Is he? That’s great!

Ping spends a great deal of time adjusting his appearance, pulling down his outfit to use the potty and putting his hat on and off. Then he is tired and wants to nap. While he is sleeping, Owen makes coffee with the toy Keurig that is just like Papa’s. He and Papa make a hissing water sound as the coffee brews. They sit back in their chairs and enjoy several cups of coffee together. Grandma doesn’t drink coffee so she gets a hot chocolate from time to time.

It’s a good day.

Coffee Break

Coffee Break

Jet’s Christmas Gift

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The Mantle

The Mantle

Jet did her own Christmas shopping this year at her school’s Secret Santa shop. Just the thought of it raises a lump of nostalgia in my throat. I loved the excitement of her mother and aunt as they sallied forth to spend their own money on perfect gifts and I’ve never forgotten my own first experience as well.

My grandmother took me downtown on the bus to the Little Tike’s shop at Rike’s Department Store. I dressed in my best clothes and shoes. We waited in line so I could visit with Santa and have my photo taken. Animated scenes and blankets of glittery cotton snow lined our path. After greeting Santa and Mrs. Claus, we came to a small door, too low for a grownup to enter. Grandma told an elf how much money I had to spend and how many gifts I hoped to buy. She waited outside while the elf ushered me through the door. Inside, other elves were busy showing children their wares.

I don’t remember what I purchased that day, but I doubt it was as meaningful as the present Jet selected for me. She was so excited to give it to me that I could only pray that my joy to receive it might begin to match her expectations. The moment the wrapping slipped away, I knew: Jet had bought me a memory. A wonderful memory of wonderful days spent together. Her gift may have looked odd to the rest of the room, but I loved it completely and sincerely.

No one could love a large orange foam dice cube more. I knew immediately why she thought of me when she saw it. Last summer I impulsively bought a Tenzi game from the checkout lane at a hardware store and accidently discovered a game we both enjoyed. We played for hours shaking our cups, spilling them out and attempting to be the first to get all our dice to show the same number. Jet and I both love putting things in order. It’s also the perfect game to practice being a gracious winner or loser as almost no skill is required.

My dice cube has a place of honor on the mantle so I can see it whenever I look up from my favorite spot on the couch, right next to the paper mache dog her mother made for me. As I catch sight of it, I feel two little arms wrapped around my neck and a little voice whispering in my ear, “Gramma! My Gramma!”

Just Jack

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Jack

Jack

When Jack got out of the car for his first solo day at Grandma’s house, he held a stuffed bear and sported a big grin. Jack doesn’t have one particular stuffed friend like Jet and Owen, but he likes to follow the family tradition and carry one just in case he needs it. “Where’s your blanket?” I asked.

“He can use yours,” my daughter said. “He doesn’t need a special one.” That’s Jack in a nutshell: adjustable. When he was really little and one of his siblings snatched his toy — he’d just calmly find another. These days he doesn’t put up with quite that level of sharing, but he’s still less possessive than most kids.

Jack got the lay of the land and made use of the potty right after breakfast. Never was a child more delighted by an M&M! Like his brother he also chose the Mickey Mouse training pants and did an admirable job of keeping them dry, getting two candies for keeping the floor unsoiled right from the start. When he learned that he could earn THREE candies for keeping his pants not just dry but clean, he wholeheartedly embraced the idea with astonishing success.   “I don’t think you need the little potty chair anymore,” I told him.

“Why?” He looked uncertain.

“Because you did such an amazing job knowing when you need to use the toilet!” You can get to the big potty in time, so you don’t need this little one here.” Jack nodded.

During his initial solo days his brother Owen demanded constant personal attention from his grandparents. In contrast, Jack gloried in the chance to play with toys in uninterrupted solitude; to implement his personal visions for the zoo animals or cars; to build things that only he would take apart.

Getting Everything Just So

Getting Everything Just So

Jack wasn’t particularly interested in learning new words or improving his diction, but we worked on that a little bit anyway. When I forgot that “Nanna” translates as “blanket” and offered him a yellow fruit, he quickly learned to accommodate my language disability and switched to a very clear “blanket.” When he forgot, all it took was a slightly puzzled look to produce the correct word.

Jack loves stories, unless they signify that bedtime is approaching. “Do you want a story?” I asked.

He frowned. “Not nap time!”

“No, not nap time…but you can still have a story if you want one.”

He did. He most assuredly did. We read his favorite, Silly Dilly Duck, the story of a duckling that lost a feather. Jack loves the part where we make a fist then raise and open our hand and shout “PUFF!” when the feather blows into the air. I love that he loves it. I could watch him shout “puff” all day.

Filling the School Bus

Filling the School Bus

To my delight, Jack is a huge fan of my repertoire of children’s songs and rhymes. We played “this little piggy” with each other’s toes. We sang “Itsy Bitsy Spider,” “Row, Row, Row, Your Boat,” and “Zum, Gali, Gali.” Jack made all the hand motions right along with me. Happy grins decorated both our faces.

In the afternoon, Jack climbed up and sat next to me on the couch, his legs straight out in front of him. “Gamma, gocha onna beerwal.”

“I’m sorry, I’m not sure what you said. Can you say it again?”

He patted his legs and tried again. “Wanna goonna beer wal.”

“You want to go on a bear hunt?”

“YES!”

“Okay. Here we go then.” I slap my legs to make the sound of walking feet. “And, we’re walking, we’re walking. Do you see a bear?”

“No, I don see beer.”

“Keep walking. Here we go through the grass.” We rub our hands together. “Do you see a bear?”

“YES!”

“RUN!”

We run, climb a tree and say “whew!”

“Again!” shouts Jack.

“Okay, here we go!”

“Who loves you, Jack?”

“Gamma!”

“You are so right!”

Owen’s Turn

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Owen

Owen

With their sister now occupied with kindergarten, the time has come for her 2-year-old brothers to begin to spend some special, only-child days at Grandma’s house. First at bat: Owen, who has never willingly or gracefully suffered any sort of separation from his mother. Even when she needs just a moment in the bathroom, Owen will stand outside the door and wail.

As the van pulls into our drive on Monday morning, I mentally prepare for a round of separation anxiety. I plan to distract him with a lovely breakfast. The van door slides open and Owen offers a huge grin. “I going to Grandma’s house!” In the backseat, his brother seems fine with that idea. He’s more than happy to stay with mommy.

I smile back, ruffle his hair and help him out of the car. His mom prepares to hug him goodbye. Ignoring her open arms, Owen takes my hand and clutching his stuffed penguin and blanket moves toward the house and away from his mother. “Bye, Owen!” she calls.

Owen turns around, and grins at her. “Bye mom!” he says, as if he has been casually strolling away from her since he could walk. My daughter and I lock eyes. I shrug. Who could have predicted it?

As we step into the house, I maintain my deliberately spritely attitude and cautious optimism. “Okay, Little Buddy, breakfast is all ready.” Owen wants to take his blanket and Penguin into the chair too, but I know better than to give him an inch on that one. “Nope, at Grandma’s house the animal friends just watch when we eat. They need to stay clean. We don’t want food on them, do we?” We put Penguin and the blanket in a safe place where Owen can keep an eye on them. He isn’t sure about it, but I am implacable. “Good?” He nods.

After brushing his teeth, Owen discovers that things look a bit different at grandma’s house: the carpeted play area is covered with plastic table cloths and a little potty chair sits in front of Papa’s favorite armchair. “I hear you have been doing a good job learning to use the potty, Owen, so we are going to take off your pull-up and put on some big boy pants!” Owen is already wearing long-legged briefs over his pull-up. (True confession: I had to look up the official name for that sort of undergarment. Grandma is relatively inexperienced when it comes to boys.) I offer him his choice of very thick training pants instead to reduce accident leakage. Owen selects Mickey Mouse.

Potty Chair

Potty Chair

The boys have been “potty training” at the behest of their daycare for several weeks. The plan is to continue the effort and hopefully make some additional progress. Owen complies with my suggestion to sit on the potty chair or the potty seat in the bathroom every 20 minutes and willingly drinks lots of extra water. One of the things I learned with his sister is that the most important hurdle to training completion is recognizing the impending need to use the toilet. Owen clearly isn’t there yet, but he does want to earn one M&M candy for putting some liquid in the pot. Papa and I are of course immensely proud when he produces a stream. I am not so thrilled about it landing on my pants and shoes.

I quickly learned to use a magic mantra even while rolling my eyes in astonishment to hear myself chanting, “keep your penis down; keep your penis down.” New rule: two M&Ms are awarded for keeping Grandma and the floor dry. With some extra encouragement from Papa who avowed that he, too, follows this important practice, the dryness of our day dramatically improves.

We follow the same routine that worked so well for his sister and I think of her often, but Owen rarely reminds me of Jet. No, Owen is completely and clearly his mother’s son. It’s my daughter’s face I see as we take our walk and watch the trash trucks. It’s my daughter’s face scrunching in distress at the arrival of naptime. He has a shorter version of the hair and bangs she sported at that age too. Suddenly, I realize why I keep calling him Little Buddy. From time to time we still call his mama Buddy too. Seems like you can turn back the clock!

Summer Days

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Jet's Nasturtiums

Jet’s Nasturtiums

Watching grandchildren grow can be bittersweet when tempered by the acceleration of the speed of time that comes naturally with age. It all passes so quickly. During Jet’s last pre-school year, writing about her seemed less important that savoring every minute of our time together and now I find myself with less than a month of lazy summer days remaining to talk and cuddle, read and play, garden and walk.

During our time together, Jet has shown herself to be a natural gardener. We walk the yard, checking on the progress of the nasturtiums she grew from seeds, deadheading our daisy friends, watering the potted plants. “Look at what those bad rabbits did!” we exclaim when we spy a fresh blossom cut to the ground. When Jet’s family moved to a new house in June, she was excited about her new room, but burst into tears at the prospect of leaving her favorite tree behind. “Would you like to take a plant from Grandma’s yard to be your very own plant in your new yard?”

“Would Mommy let me?”

“Yes, I asked her before I asked you.”

“YES! You had to ask because it’s not your house didn’t you? You can do what you want in your own house, because you are in charge there, but Mommy and Daddy are in charge at our house.”

Bearded Iris

Bearded Iris

“That’s right. Which plant do you think you might like?”

“The purple ones!”

“The iris? That’s a good choice. I think they will do well in your yard, and I know a place we can plant them. You have to remember though, the iris are done for now. After we move them, they won’t bloom again until next year. The leaves are going to turn brown and they might look like they died.”

“I know! But they will come back next year, right?”

Grandma's Geraniums

Grandma’s Geraniums

“Right.” Jet prefers perennials because they always come back in the spring, but she appreciates annuals for their sudden infusion of color. In years to come, I imagine that geraniums will remind her of me, just as they always make me think of my mother.

Jet weeded the ground with gusto in preparation for her iris friends. No child has ever pulled weeds more diligently or enthusiastically. “You’re going to be a big help to your daddy working in the yard!”

“I already am! We pulled lots and lots of weeds already!”

“Pulling weeds was one of my jobs when I was a little girl. I don’t think I liked it as much as you do… but I didn’t have my own flowers to take care of either.”

“Why not?”

“I don’t know. I just didn’t.”

“I keep an eye on the boys too. I make sure they don’t get into trouble and tell if they do something they shouldn’t. I think Mommy and Daddy are teaching me to be their babysitter. I don’t know why they would do that, though! Why would they do that?”

I look at Jet sharply. Her advanced ability to consider possibilities sometimes leads her astray. I can see the beginnings of an idea that being a babysitter is somehow unfair. “I’m sure they are not doing that. You are too young to be a babysitter for your brothers and by they time you are old enough to be a babysitter they will not need one.”

I Can Push You!

I Can Push You!

“You know those chairs that you can push grownups around in?”

“Yes. Wheelchairs?”

“Yes. When you and Papa get so old you can’t walk anymore, I’m gonna take care of you. I’ll push you around in one of those!”

“Well, that’s very nice of you.” Apparently I still have much to look forward to.

 

She’s On Fire

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Jet Dancing

Jet Dancing

“My ear feels funny.”

“Uh-oh! One ear or both ears?”

“Grandma! I said EAR! If you mean more than one you say EARZZZZ!”

“Ah, I see.”

“I’m special am-it I, Grandma?”

“It’s ‘aren’t I, not ‘am-it’ I. But yes, you are indeed, Jet. What in particular are you thinking about today?”

“I’m special because I made my mommy a mommy. She wasn’t a mommy until I was born. And when I was born I made you a grandma, too, didn’t I?”

“This is true. You did make me a grandma and you made your mother a mother.”

“’Cause I was the first baby. You can’t be a mommy until you have a baby and you can’t be a grandma until one of your children has a baby. And you can’t be an aunt or uncle unless your brother or sister has a baby.”

“Correct. When will you be a grandma?”

“When my baby has a baby!”

“That’s right. When will you be an uncle?”

“I can’t be an uncle! Only boys can be uncles! Okay. I’m finished.”

At the Sink Sporting a Princess Hairstyle

At the Sink Sporting a Princess Hairstyle

“All right. Go brush your teeth then.”

The earsplitting shriek emanating from the vicinity of bathroom signaled the sighting of a millipede. “Grandma! Grandma! There is a HUGE bug in the sink!”

“I’ll be right there, Jet.” I didn’t hurry. A millipede in the sink it wasn’t going anywhere – they don’t seem to be able to climb on porcelain. A wadded roll of toilet paper made short work of the invader.

Jet heaved a sigh of relief.   “We don’t like bugs in the house, do we Grandma?”

“No, as long as they stay outside, they are fine, but when they come into the house, they have to go.” The day before Jet was quite pleased to observe an ant dragging the desiccated carcass of a worm across the sidewalk. A millipede in the sink is always cause for alarm.

When she returned to the living room, the most recent issue of Consumer Reports caught Jet’s attention. “What kind of bug is THAT?”

Computer Bugs

Computer Bugs

“It isn’t a real bug. It’s a pretend bug.”

“Why? Why did they put a pretend bug there?”

“It’s an imaginary bug to go with a story about computer bugs. Computer bugs aren’t alive. It’s another way of saying that the computer doesn’t work right.”

Jet looked dubious. “What does a computer bug do?”

“Computer bugs aren’t real. It’s a phrase; a group of words used to say you’re your computer has a problem. You know how sometimes when you are sick you say your voice is hoarse? You don’t really have the voice of a horse. It means you can’t talk quite right. Sometimes when someone is really happy we say that they are ‘walking on air.’ They aren’t really walking in the air of course, it just means they are really, really happy!”

“Tell me more things like that!”

“When I was little my grandma used to say ‘that’s the bees’ knees!’ It means that something is really good. She wasn’t talking about real bees or their knees at all. It’s just a way to say something is good. Does that make sense to you?”

“It’s like when daddy says I’m on fire and he means I’m doing a great job?”

“Yes! Exactly like that! You’ve got it! Her daddy is right: she’s definitely on fire!

 

 

Reality or Fantasy?

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Jet Meets Cinderella

Jet Meets Cinderella

When I was perhaps 5 or 6 years old, my parents took me to Santa Claus Village in Canada. I met the Jolly Old Elf and Mrs. Claus, toured his summer cabin and saw real reindeer grazing in his yard. I believed in Santa with every fiber of my being. As part of the experience, my parents arranged for me to receive a letter from Santa in November. He talked about my visit, expressed his happiness that I was still being a good girl, and asked me to write back with a list of Christmas wishes.

At school that fall some of the children tried to tell me that Santa was a fantasy, perpetrated by my parents, but my belief remained unshakable. I’d seen him! He wrote to me! What did they know? These days, I’ve adjusted my thinking to the idea that Santa is the embodiment of Christmas spirit, sharing and goodwill that produces a human kind of magic each December, but in some respects Santa still remains real to me.

Jet is every bit as stubborn about her various cherished beliefs. Sometimes her tenacity frustrates me in the way that seeing yourself in your grandchildren can do. At the same time I am impressed by her rationality when presented with conflicting evidence and her patience working through problems in logic.

At almost 5, Jet still believes in a classic concept of Santa with all her heart. She says that he and the Easter Bunny are really good people, like Jesus. At the same time, she accepts the existence of pretenders to the role, helpers who fill in at malls and other locations as needed. As a very practical child she is able to find ways to make sense and order of the world around her. Jet also firmly believes in the magical kingdom of Disney. Stories may be told in movies and cartoons about Belle and Elsa and Cinderella and these stories may differ in various details but she knows that the genuine princesses, villains and heroes live at Disney World. She has met them and touched them. She has photos. I know just how she feels.

Meeting Gaston posed something of a conundrum for her. Gaston had been one of the major villains of Beauty and the Beast. Toward the end of the movie, Gaston fell from the Beast’s castle, presumably to his death. Yet, she saw him, alive, well and talking affably to children at Disney World. How could this be? Jet pondered the problem and adjusted her thinking. Gaston was hurt by the fall, but he didn’t die. His horrible experience changed him for the better: he’s good now. Problem solved!

Kitty In Her Belle Dress

Kitty In Her Belle Dress

Until recently I operated under the understanding that Jet’s stuffed friend, Kitty had achieved realness in the manner of the Velveteen Rabbit. Kitty needed to watch Jet eat breakfast and take her bath so she wouldn’t be lonely. She wore clothing to keep her warm including some matching outfits just like Jet’s. Kitty had thoughts and feelings that included deep angst at the idea of being left at home alone. Sometimes she could read and drive a car and sometimes she was just a baby, but always, always, Kitty was in some manner real to Jet.

I failed to notice that things had changed until one morning at breakfast Jet mentioned that Kitty didn’t think she needed a bath today. “Oh? Why does she think that?”

“About what?”

“About your bath. Why does Kitty think you don’t need a bath today?”

Jet paused and looked at me over the top of her glasses. “Grandma…” she paused, trying to find the right words. “Grandma, Kitty isn’t real.”

Kitty may not have been real anymore, but my astonishment certainly was. “What? When did that happen?”

Jet looked at me solemnly. “Well,” she said slowly. “She’s never been real. She’s a stuffed animal.” She watched me carefully for my reaction.

What I wanted to do was cry and bewail Jet’s rapidly vanishing childhood, but I took a deep breath instead. “I see. I guess I didn’t know that.”

“Yes.”

“Is there anything else that isn’t real?”

“Animals don’t really talk.”

“Are you sure?”

“Yes.”

Marcy Thinking About Biscuits

Marcy Thinking About Biscuits

“Marcy talks. Maybe not with words, but she can tell me what she wants. She tells me when she wants to go out.”

“No she doesn’t.”

I walked over to the canister of biscuits. Predictably, Marcy jumped straight up to indicate her desire that I open the lid. “What’s she saying right now?”

“She wants a biscuit.”

“Yep. She doesn’t need words to talk to us, does she? Is Marcy real?”

“Yes.”

“Is Dory (from Finding Nemo) real?”

“No, she’s a cartoon.”

“Is Belle real?”

“Yes, not the cartoon, but she is a real Princess in real life.”

“Okay. I think I understand.” I know it had to happen sometime, but I already miss Real Kitty.

Twin Week

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Jack is Ready for School

Jack Is Ready for School

Owen Brushing His Teeth

Owen Brushing His Teeth

Owen and Jack have become adept at essential communication, a stage that I eagerly anticipated and gratefully embraced during their recent five-day sojourn at Grandma’s house. They can declare thirst; demand a hug; ask for a story; announce hunger; and express the need for a comfort object. Just as importantly, they understand just about everything of importance that I want to tell them.

When the boys woke up Monday morning in a different house, they had but one word on their minds: mama. This one word became a litany that I translated as, “Where is our mother, and why are we here?” It accompanied us through the diaper change, dressing, brushing of teeth and the trip to daycare. When we returned at 2:30 p.m. to pick them up, Owen was pleased to see us and went so far as to say “Grandma! Papa!” Jack was not displeased, but a bit wary and a note of desperate interrogative had entered his tone, “Mama?”

Owen seems especially interested in improving his verbal skills and although his desire to speak still greatly outstrips his ability, once we returned home, he intensified his efforts to find out what had happened to his mother, father and sister. Pointing to the family photo on display in the living room, Owen pointed to the missing individuals and looked me straight in the eye, “Mama? Dada? Gigi [Jet]?”

“They went on a trip. You and Jack are staying with Grandma and Papa while they are away, but they’ll come back. Don’t worry, they’ll come back.”

Owen confirmed his understanding, “Mama back?”

“Yes, mama will come back. You just have to wait. Not today.” Before they went to sleep they were able to talk to their parents and sister on the phone. They both bestowed multiple hugs and wet sloppy kisses on my cellphone as they happily invoked the names of their unseen loved ones. Thereafter, they attended any ring, chime or buzz emanating from my phone with great excitement, “Mama? Dada?” and each day Owen asked for and received reaffirmation, “Mama back?”

Bathtime

Bathtime

Overall, they handled the situation remarkably well, maintaining a cheerful, cooperative mood and quickly adjusting to the rules of the house. We had a couple of small glitches of course, including the day I put Owen’s patch on the wrong eye and when we had to wash their hair two days in a row because I turned my back on them while they ate dinner. My relative inexperience with toddler boys was most fully demonstrated when I took Owen out of the bathtub and began toweling him dry. As he proceeded to void on my shoes, I froze in astonishment. He seemed equally surprised to see me quickly strip off my footgear while hollering, “yuck!”

By Thursday, however, Owen’s forbearance had reached its limit. When Papa offered to let me take a turn on the treadmill, I accepted and told the boys I’d be right back. Owen’s face crumpled and he burst into sobs. Jack brought him a blanket while I held him tightly and rubbed his back. “It’s okay, buddy! Grandma will stay right here. I’m not going anywhere! You are much, much more important than the treadmill!”

During their call that night, their father said he’d see them tomorrow, causing Owen to utter the longest, clearest word he has spoken in my presence. “Tomorrow? Tomorrow? Tomorrow?”

“Yes, buddy, Mommy and Daddy will be back tomorrow. Not today, but after you come home from school tomorrow.”

To my amazement and delight, Owen remembered the next morning. “Tomorrow?” he said hopefully.

“Yes! It’s tomorrow. You will see Mommy and Daddy today before you go to bed.”

Twin Conversation

Twin Conversation

So far, the boys give every indication of growing up to be men of few words. They don’t waste time on extraneous parts of speech. Jack lets his brother do most of the talking for both of them. He seems to realize that Owen is more easily understood and can get the point across faster, but Jack is always listening and understands every bit as much.

Watching the boys play together is fascinating. They don’t need the English language to understand each other, getting by quite well with a combination of body language, gestures and sounds that are intelligible only to one other.   Somehow they have reached a level of truce that allows for sharing single objects between them, such as the water pen that colors only on a special mat, passing it back and forth at an inaudible request.

Jack’s strength is observation. He is the first to recognize patterns and to figure out how things work. When the pen ran out of water, Jack showed me that it needed filling and tried to unscrew the cap. When the boys were finished coloring, he brought it back to me.

Later, Owen stood at my knee and said, “golar.”

“Golar?”

“Golar!”

“I don’t know that word. Can you show me what you want?”

Owen patiently repeated the same word, but Jack, who had been listening to the exchange, joined him and demanded “up!” Once on the couch, he crawled across my body and pointed to the pen, “golar!”

“You want to color?”

The boys smiled at my interpretive abilities and chorused, “yes!” The moment Jack had the pen in his hand, he handed it off to Owen. If they keep this up, their combined talents will make them a force to be reckoned with one day. Let’s hope they use their powers for good!

Brotherly Hugs

Brotherly Hugs

On Friday, Owen squealed with delight when we pulled into the driveway and his mother came out to greet us. “Mama, Mama, Mama!” He let me get him out of the car and took my hand to go meet her. Poor Jack was overcome by the intensity of his feelings and burst into tears the moment he saw her face. Owen looked at his mother on the other side of the car, attending to Jack and altered course, pulling me toward the house. “Dada!” he said, leaving Jack to receive the comfort of mama first. They take care of each other, these two.

Introspection

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Olaf's Fun File

Olaf’s Fun File

Jet knows herself very well – better than I could have imagined. She was excited to fill in the blanks in a Disney book she received as a gift on Saturday: Olaf’s Fun File. She couldn’t wait to answer questions about her friends, likes and dislikes and hopes and dreams. Jet nearly finished the book in one sitting. None of her answers required the slightest hesitation or consideration. Jet quickly rattled off her name, age, birthdate, eye and hair color. When asked her shoe size she ran to get one of her shoes to check, “I only brought one shoe Grandma ‘cause they are both the same size!”

Next she listed 10 friends without stopping for breath. She identified “coloring” as her best talent and “trying to get the brothers to do things and not do things,” as her worst habit. Her happiest moment: sleepovers.

Her very best friends include two of her 5-year-old cousins. She likes one because he plays with her “best of all,” and reminisced about the time they played caterpillar and filled a cocoon.   Jet appreciates her cousins for different reasons. She enjoys another cousin for being willing to do whatever she wants to do and making her laugh. In a similar vein, her friend Quinn is admired because he is willing to play the less popular role of Anna (From Disney’s Frozen), while Jet and his sister took the part of Elsa.

What secret has Jet never told anyone? That she has necklaces. It’s a secret because she likes them and doesn’t want anyone to take them. What does Jet tell only her best friend? That she loves them!

Jet's Snowperson

Jet’s Snowperson

Jet’s biggest secret wish was a complete surprise to me: She wants to have a bird to live in her house. Something she secretly thinks is really fun: Rain! The beach! (Hardly surprising, but very true.) Her favorite person in the world: “I don’t have only one: Mama, Grandma, Marley, Daddy, Papa….”

Despite her love for the beach, Jet chose winter as her favorite season. She had no problem identifying the reasons: she likes shoveling snow, Christmas, no bugs or mosquitos and she gets to stay in the house more.

Something Jet has always dreamed of doing: riding on an elephant. A place she dreams of visiting: California. A person she dreams of meeting: Jasmine (one of the Disney characters she has yet to see.)

Jet doesn’t remember dreaming, but she imagines being able to write all the words she’d like to write without any help. When I transcribed her answers in the book I was very careful to use her exact wording but she wished she could have done it on her own.

Her best adventure was going to the beach with her dad’s family. The best thing about the trip was playing in the sand with Mom and making a sand castle without anyone knocking it down.

Telling Santa she wants lots of presents

Telling Santa she wants lots of presents

Some fun things Jet would like to do: go shopping, like when we got Papa’s new shoes; go to the grocery with Daddy; go to the mall with Mama; sing “Away in the Manger” with Grandma. She wishes she could get lots and lots of Christmas presents and live at the beach because almost all her family was there. “Maybe you and Papa could come next time?” She also wishes for a baby sister because she likes them and she doesn’t have one.

Jet created her own snowperson for the book. She named her Nora and pronounced that she loves M and M candies. Nora’s biggest dream is to be an elephant.

She chose green over blue and yellow; winter over spring and summer; relaxing on the beach to walking in a forest or making ice sculptures; making jokes over singing and ice skating; and for it to be sunny all the time over being free to be herself or being surrounded by friends and family. She characterized herself as funny and loving over happy and excitable or careful and graceful, but said that she’d be more likely to say, “let’s think about it first” over “I can’t wait” or “I love heat.”

Jet’s last wish melted my heart faster than Olaf the snowman on the beach: “I wish I could always come to Grandma’s house every day because I love her so much in the whole entire world… across the ocean love you!”

Love you too, Jet more than I can say.