No Idea

Tuesdays are “grampa takes the ballet lesson girl home after he gets off work” day. Except the girl who can usually talk and sing about nothing for half an hour in rush hour traffic was quiet and mopey, even after a pack of assorted princess fruit gummies. When the car rolled up in front of her parents’ house and stopped she worked her way through the back seat, drug out her backpack, let it drop to the the curb. All just barely four years of her completely dejected.

“Was ballet lesson a bummer?”

“Ballet class. No. At school. I wanted to be first.”

“Yeah? That first thing doesn’t happen all the time.”

“Even for princesses?”

“Even for princesses with lime green tutus.” That didn’t sit very well. “Here, I’ll get your bag, you go show me the door lock code again. I forgot.”

“‘Kay. You get the mail.” She shuffled up the driveway and grumped her way through the door lock code, left a trail of shoes and tutu and tiara in the living room.

“Want a cookie?”

“NO. I wanted to be first.” She was pacing around the family room of her parents’ house, arms folded, hrumphing, toe kicking random stuffed animals and floor pillows. Or pillows that had found the floor and maybe shouldn’t have been there. Telling the dogs and her brother both “NO.”

“You get to be first a lot. It’s okay not to be first every time. And you need to get used to it because nobody gets to be first all the time. Not even grampas. I’m gonna eat your cookie if you don’t ungrumpy.”

“NO.” She let one arm of the folded pair out, took the cookie. “I wanted to be first. You were never not first, papa?”

“I was not first a lot. I told my grampa about this guy I went to school with named Kent. He could play everything better than me. Run faster, kick the ball farther, go across the monkey bars better –”

“What’s monkeys bars?”

“Where you hang by your hands and climb all over –”

“Like playscapes?”

“Yeah. Playscapes. And Kent was always better than me, at least most of the time. Sometimes I got to be better. But I told my grampa all about Kent and he took me to meet the bear wrassler. That’s where I learned it’s okay not to be first all the time.”

“What’s bear wrassler mean?” Her arms were still folded and she wasn’t buying it yet.

“My grampa took me out in the woods in this place called Missouri to meet the bear wrassler. Because I was complaining so much about Kent not letting me win all the time. He took me waaaaay off in the woods where the wrassler man lived in this funny house made out of rocks, and he was sitting on the porch smoking a long pipe, waiting for us. He was kind of scary looking. Let’s get that cookie off your hands before your mom gets home.”

“Scary like a monster or a spider or like Beast?”

“Not as scary as Beast, but close. He had a black patch on his eye like a pirate and a big, long scar on his face where –”

“What’s a scar?”

“Where a really bad bo-bo happened.”

“Ohhhhh…”

“And he had on old overalls and no shirt and was all hairy, and he had big brown boots.”

“Like Garcon?”

“Sorta. So my grampa says to him ‘Tell this boy ‘bout b’ar wrasslin’ ‘cause he’s driving me nuts whining about some kid not lettin’ him win all the time.’ And the scary man looks at me with his one eye, sets his pipe down on a table made out of an old piece of wood carved out like a bear, blows smoke in my face and says, ‘Boy, you look kinda short in the britches to hear ‘bout wrasslin’ b’ar.’ He meant maybe I wasn’t big enough. Like you, maybe.”

“I’m big! I can do all kinds of things now that I’m,” she worked her fingers, planted the thumb in her palm. “Four! You can tell me!”

“Okay, I guess you’re big enough. The bear wrassler man says to me his job is to get up every morning, early, and go out looking for a bear to wrassle. You know, he and the bear go after it like you and your brother sometimes.”

“I wrassle better than him ‘cause he’s a baby. And only, only because, um, he takes my stuff that he, he, um…that’s not his. Does the bear look like my brother?”

“Probably. With better manners. Anyway, the wrassler man goes out to find the bear every day so they can do their job wrasslin’. I thought the man was crazy going out to do that, you know, fighting with a bear? Crazy. But that was his job and I asked him why did he do something crazy like that and I hoped he kicked the bear’s booty or else it would eat him. He pointed at his eyepatch and said, ‘You got to be on your toes and ready to wrassle b’ar with all you got, every day. Some days I kick his butt and some days he kicks mine, but this eye patch is why I get up and go lookin’ for him. ‘Cause this here eyepatch is what happens when you expect to win all the time and whine about it when you don’t. You act thataway and the b’ar, he’ll just come up on you and RAWRRRR all over you standin’ there thinkin’ first is yours just because you’re some kind of princess. And that ain’t how it works a’tall.’”

“Were you a princess, too, papa?”

“No. He was saying that because even princesses don’t get to be first just because they’re princesses. So I’d understand the story he was telling me. Everybody knows princesses are special, but they have to fight the bear like even people who aren’t princesses.”

“Like Brave? She fights a bear!”

“She does, but it’s her mom, and your mom’s not a bear, is she?”

“Sometimes!”

“Yeah, I can see that. So after the bear wrassler told me that, my grampa shakes hands with him and I gotta tell you, that man really scared me. We get in my grampa’s old truck and he looks at me for a minute and scratches his chin before he says, ‘You gonna be a b’ar wrassler or you just gonna keep complainin’?’ And I said I was gonna be a b’ar wrassler ‘cause I didn’t want him to think I was a weenie or anything and the wrassler man was so scary and I sure didn’t want an eye patch. Grampa took a drink out of this flat bottle he kept in his overalls and he says to me, all serious. ‘Good. S’long as you understand that you don’t always get to be first. Because I’m tellin’ you, like he said, some days you get the b’ar, and some days the b’ar gets you. But you gotta get up tomorrow and wrassle him again, win or lose.’ So at school tomorrow if you’re first, great. You got the b’ar. If you try and you’re not, that’s how it goes. Because some days you get the b’ar, and some days?” The tickle monster came out, she squealed and took off.

“Some days the b’ar gets me, papa!”

***

The grocery bag and car keys hit the kitchen island, the lawyer turns into daughter for a split second. “Dad, before you leave…My daughter is saying things at school to the kids behind her when she’s line leader like ‘I got the bar today and the bar got you.’ And sometimes she makes a monster noise to go with it. You have any idea what she’s talking about, or where that’s coming from?”

“Nope. No idea.”

Fathers Day

If you’re a father you know how this goes. “Happy Father’s Day!” Maybe it’s wrapped, probably not. Then you go out to eat. You’ve gone out to eat somewhere kid or grand kid friendly for as long as you can remember, you get the check. Or someone with joint account privileges makes a nice gesture.

I got this one yesterday, Father’s Day Eve, which was okay because everybody is busy and “Dad doesn’t mind.” I tipped this guy the max. Twenty percent. In a Taco place with Formica tables and grand kid proof tile floors. Because you never know. I almost put the receipt in the charitable donations file because I’m still not sure if it was a tip, or a tithe. The scary thing? He kinda looked the part.

And that really got me to wondering. You know, what does that guy give his dad for Father’s Day? Did he wrap it?

Nana Ballet

I asked a three-year-old what I should put on a Facebook page when I was considering it. I thought she’d be a good barometer. Without hesitation, she said, “Nana ballet!”

“Well, I thought it might be about, you know, me.”

“Not you. Me an’ Nana ballet!” “You” was said like someone would say it if they’d just stepped in used dog food. “Not poo!” I haven’t won an argument with a female in thirty-seven years, I’m not going to start today. Nana ballet it is. The one on the left has been three once, and to two Nutcrackers already. The one on the right has been three *ahem* times and I quit counting Nutcracker and Snow Queen rehearsals and performances in the Eighties. The two of them, together, brings me to an old saying; Grandchildren are parents’ best revenge.

There are a lot of those sayings about spoiling grandkids and sending them home full of sugar, how nice it is that they go home, even after a (very) long weekend. How you get to love them and not have to take them to the pediatrician unless they develop projectile vomiting while you have them over spring break. That’s all okay, and understood, as far as the grandparent one-liners go, but what about your kids and those grandkids of yours?

ava bWhat if one of those beautiful grandchildren of yours is your child’s worst nightmare? My daughter’s daughter is my daughter’s mother. Seriously. As well as my son-in-law’s. How messed up is that for them? How could that happen? Those two kids are the pragmatic children, the very antithesis of their Fine Arts and Liberal Arts tree hugging middle-class Last of the Romantics type parents. Parents who dance and play music and still “bust a move” with students when Michael Jackson blows out of the pit at the student center. My daughter was reasonable, talented, smart. Self-motivating and very little trouble until she got Senioritis in high school and started driving by braille. Still nowhere near as much trouble as me, or, I’m sure, her mother. She got over it and turned into an attorney. Just like my son-in-law got over couch surfing and skateboards and became a school principal. They are organized and prepared and scheduled. But their first kid? God help them. My granddaughter is a clone of my wife.

As they run to meet each other “Nana, Nana! Are you going to ballet, too?” bounces off the walls of the studio lobby. The child will dance at the drop of a hat, just like my wife and, I am told, just like her other, now deceased, grandmother. It doesn’t matter if it’s kiddie songs, ZZ Top piped into a restaurant or classical. Gotta move. And read. And imagine. And talk. Talk, talk, talk. Princesses and tutus, fake eyelashes and costumes, all day long.

Nana is actually aBG Denton Ballet on point on Stagen English professor who puts on leotards and tights and becomes ten years old again at least three times a week. Now she has real, kid-sized company. She can even be three now, if she wants, which she does very well. Princesses and coloring books and fairy tales and all that magic you can believe when you’re three that some people, like Nana, have never put away or stopped believing. I told my daughter one day that if she ever wondered how to deal with her daughter, just think about how she dealt with her mom, with maybe a little more patience.

I have heard my granddaughter’s parents say things while rolling their eyes, like “here comes little Nana now…” and my favorite “Will somebody please go get both three-year-olds?” They are inseparable when they’re together. Nana will brave weather she wouldn’t go out in otherwise to see her granddaughter. Stay up late, get behind, go without sleep catching up, make herself sick for a little more time to be ten or three or Belle or Cinderella. To drink tea on the ceiling or hide from a dragon or a wicked witch, dance with a magic scarf or a giant flying stuffed sheep.

girls and nutI used to believe that innocence was the province of children, and that all of our youthful fairy tales from daydreams of ballerinas and pirates rescuing damsels in distress to the sanctity of first true love, were destined to end in heartbreak. Like one day we all get our moment to be Puff when he becomes the un-magic dragon and slumps off to his cave like a big, sad, scaly fire breathing Eeyore. Now, even when I’m tired of crayon bits in the remote control and TV shows laden with songs about everything from “be nice to your brother” to “flush the potty,” I see the magic in my child’s worst nightmare.  The pure, unapologetic logic of Nana Ballet. And I go re-write the last verse of Puff the Magic Dragon.

I believe that the very best thing you can hope for the granddaughters you can spoil and send home is that someday they too will give birth to a nightmare who becomes that very special place where their mother’s magic stays alive.