Tuesday, October 9, 2012

The Weekend With Margaret

A weekend has come, and it has gone, just like a parade of all the others which have taken the same course. It, and they, will not come again. They are gone from this life remaining only in our memories, ephemeral and illusive the older they get. This one was different though as a first, and I photographed so much of it, but sadly missed most of it. Mark said at one point that we should be filming the whole thing. We should have, but didn’t. We were too busy being in it to be simply observers. We were watching the grandkid, and that, took total focus.

After a frantic week of super house cleaning last week in anticipation, the big day finally came on Friday to go to day care to pick up the little Margaret for the first weekend staying with us out here at the farm. I was apprehensive to say the least. I had no idea how to do the car seat, but figured it out eventually after learning that the instructions on the side of it weren’t all in Spanish. Once loaded up, we began our drive, her with a “bahbah” of milk to drink while I drove, her eyes steadily watching me as she gulped, me hyper-paranoid of would be stupid drivers running into us, and my precious cargo.

 When we got home it occurred to me exactly how the logistics of unloading her and her stuff, and my stuff was going to be more complicated than simply unloading a pack of dogs that had gone on a ride with me. I couldn’t just open the door and let her jump out and run around unwatched. It hit me suddenly just how much we were going to have to keep an eye on her while her visit lasted, non-stop supervision. I was out of practice at this.

She came with a set of directions from her mother, as to feeding what and when, but nothing about how to keep up with her constant motion and curiosity. We quickly learned there was about a three second window of her being out of sight that was relatively safe, but even that was a guess. In her eagerness to get to a newly found toy or even to explore a spot on the wood floor, she would try to run faster than her newly walking legs could take her and face plants came regularly, fortunately none too bad and the few tears dried quickly.

We learned about the things that we had overlooked that were not “child proof” and put them away. We learned to follow a new rhythm to the hours, and this was hers alone for us to follow. I had forgotten the joy of a child examining a new thing, the total focus on a page in a book, and the glee of knowing there was another page. Slowing time down, is a phrase my riding instructor has preached for years to me in dealing with training a horse, and it certainly came to mind with Margaret. Forget the thought of planning on getting something done, anything at all, because she, was the guiding force that lead us through the day. One moment might be caught in running back and forth across the room, another toddling down the trail to the barn stopping to look at an ant bed or a leaf. Another, her favorite, was sitting in the hallway heading to the former darkroom, just being there, quietly chirping and gurgling sweet contented noises, looking at the dark knots in the pine floor, sometimes spinning a circle on her diaper padded bum, a buddha of happiness in the moment.

We made our first official visit to the toy mega-heaven, Toys R Us, as grandparents with our grand daughter. We had found ourselves seriously lacking in toys that weren’t dog toys, thought she did show a similar interest in toys as does Gracie the Yorkie. We made it home with a drum for her to bang on, a xylophone, a soft plushy rocking horse, some little balls that rattle when shaken, and a few other various basic things to make us feel like we made her happy.

There was time spent in a slow amble walking around the fields with her sitting on Mark’s shoulders, hearing the crunch of the early fallen sycamore leaves as he stepped carefully not to jostle his load. The small pack of the dogs, the ancient shepherd Heidi, the tiny five pound Yorkie Gracie, and our grand dog Australian terrier Stella who we were also keeping for the weekend, wandered behind us in equal fascination with the day, the scents of fall, the breeze of the wind, and the sounds of being in the country. Time had slowed to a crawl and it was nice.

Later there was a bit of snoozing on the sofa with Mark after this long expedition, topped off with a bahbah, and the sweet deliciousness of total abandonment of expectation of anything, just laying there with a sleeping baby girl. Her cheeks were so plump and her mouth a cupie doll’s soft painted lips, slumbering, totally relaxed, dependent, and content. If there is a moment of pure love, I can think of none more descriptive than this scene. 

It was like a new breath of air had been blown into our lives in this little life, in our taking her for the weekend, having time to really get to know her, watch her learn, and begin to really communicate with her. She is a strong willed little person, not demanding but knows her mind and sticks to it, and very, very sweet. Quite often in the midst of toddling back and forth from one toy pile to the next she would stop in her tracks, grab both hands together and bring them to her chin, kind of bend over and a broad grin would fill her face. Then she would rock her head from side to side in expression of pure delight. I wish I could feel that innocence and sheer joy again, but life and years have jaded me somewhat. In watching her though, I came close.

Her parents picked her and Stella up as planned, and just like that she was gone and the house was quiet again. Margaret adds a new energy to the lives she meets and to the places she goes and there is a void when she is gone. When she looks you in the eyes there is a very real and serious look, but always with a glint of a grin, in the depths of her young eyes. She is teaching me.

Yesterday I stopped at a local farmers market to see the huge chrysanthemums out in front of their store. Varying in colors I stood there and marveled that I had not bought a flower in years. I saw pumpkins of varying shapes and sizes and realized that I had not bought a pumpkin in years as well, and questioned myself as to why. I asked about the name of a particularly attractive pumpkin and was told that it was a “Fairy Tale”. This was truly the perfect name for it and all it needed was a few white mice to complete the ride for Cinderella’s trip to the ball. It occurred to me that in the past few years I had been caught up in being a bit too busy, too grown up, too far from the magic except for rare moments to enjoy the simple things like buying a flower and a big ol‘ pumpkin. So I bought two huge yellow mums and that Fairy Tale pumpkin. Margaret made me do it, and I thank her.

Friday, October 5, 2012


Monday morning this week, I made a mistake, a big one. I went into the guest bath for some totally forgotten purpose, turned on the lights and for some insane reason which also eludes me now, put on my glasses and suddenly I saw the truth. There it lay before me, plain and simple, what I had been in denial about could be put aside no more. My house, this bathroom for starters, was gross.

With the help of my peepers, I could now make out the hideous shapes of the varying parts of bug parts on the floor and mysterious black dog hairs in the sink. I won’t even go into the toilet, no I mean what it looked like. It too was past the point of civilization. It was time for a spot of elbow grease, clorox, paper towel rub down, and a finish with a mop.Two hours later and a vacuum bin full of more black dog hairs, ( we don’t have black dogs but my daughter brings her laundry out and leaves her dogs’ calling cards, lots of it) the room was passable to live in once more. 

I was exhausted, but kind of pumped and ready for more. I turned and looked at the foyer and the living room and felt a bit of a helplessness in its survey. It too was gross, unkempt, disheveled, dirty, and the thought of a college dorm room came to mind, a guy’s dorm room, a freshman. It was daunting in sight, but bravely I began to dig in and began to tackle what Hercules would have turned and runaway away from. Another two hours later and I had done the foyer and half of the living room. I was feeling pretty good about the process and a bit pious at all of this cleanliness thing and sat back to enjoy the novelty of the moment. The air felt cleaner and it even sounded cleaner. I wondered why it took me so long to do this.

There had been a driving motive to my temporary madness and insanity of Sudden House Cleaning Impulsion, or SHCI as its not so well known. We were finally going to be caretakers of the grand kid for the weekend. This was going to be a first time for all. My daughter had asked if we would be up for keeping the kid for a weekend some time back and in the moment of things I had said sure, no problem and it seemed like a great idea at the time. Little Margaret is now ten months old and has never slept a night away from either one or both of her parents, and it seemed a nice time for them to have a break. In the cold light of sober daylight it began to dawn on me that a very mobile, very curious, very precocious little girl was soon going to be prowling around a very non-child proof house, mine, for three days straight. The thought sent me into a small degree of panic and hence the real underlying beginnings of the SHCI episode.

As I cleaned and tidied, I mused at how one comes complacent about why a thing is allowed to remain in a place for decades with no thought about why it got there, how long its going to remain, what purpose did it serve at some time, if any, and if we had to move would I take it with me. Sadly the answer to most of the stuff that needed to be shuffled around to get to the floor, or the walls, or the shelves to be dusted, vacuumed and mopped, was none. It is simply amazing how stuff, junk, unnecessary things slowly infiltrate the house and quietly lay there in stealth mode, cluttering without making noise,  disturbing the fen shui without moving, like the silent fart in a small tightly packed elevator. 
Yup, I was feeling the pain of fifteen years of living in a house in the country where guns are on the coffee table, soiled boots lay by the front door, fishing lures hung by their treble hooks on the shelves. All of these things lay cemented together with gobs of dog hair, dust, dander, and time.

It is an amazing thing that any of us make it to adulthood based on the potential dangers that are inherent in any room, whether Martha Stewart clean or not. For a newly walking child a corner of a table, the brick ledge of the fireplace hearth, uncovered electrical plugs and their cords, the myriad of delights for a child that await it behind every cabinet door especially the cleaning products like clorox and such, it is all a time bomb of potential disasters waiting to happen. The obvious stuff is easy to spot as pitfalls but it is the small things that are the most frightening.

As I methodically made my way around the living room, the guns were put away first, then I began to question and rate the danger of the remaining stuff. No one can perfectly save a child from all of the dangers it will face in its life but the removal of tumble weeds of dog hair, legs of unknown insects, tacks, shirt pins, plastic bags, and the best, a box of razor points for deer hunting was a starting point. 

I can’t help but think back on my own children and their little boo boos along the way, my efforts to child proof the house, and the constant vigilance against their experiencing any pain or suffering. I tried, but failed to keep them unmarred, unbruised, cut, or totally safe. I did my best but yet they still managed to hurt themselves. Quite often their accidents happened because I had not enough imagination ahead of time to tell them not to do something, like the youngest daughter jumping into the pool backwards and not quite getting away from the edge well enough. In the blink of an eye stuff happens and the next thing you know, you are on the way to the emergency room.  

I have lived for the past several decades now with no small children to worry about and I look around at my house and have to shake my head and will simply have to hope for the best. It is certainly not my plan nor wish to be using any band-aids, CPR techniques, or cold compresses over the weekend. I have covered the hearth with a thick blanket and the floor is now clean enough for a child to play on, and the rest will have to sort out as it happens. Fingers will remain crossed until her parents’ return that no booboo’s happens on our watch. They will come, as they always do, but please, not this time and place.

The other night when the kids and the grand kid were all out here for dinner, and to drop off a crib for her, the baby got very interested in a stuffed animal, an otter, and so was Gracie, the terrier. They played a game of tug of war with it  for a while until finally Margaret was determined to not let the little dog take it away. She stood up and with total deliberation sat right down on the toy, pinning it so that Gracie could not budge it, then looked up quite pleased with herself at such a clever way to solve her problem. We were of course doubled over laughing at this scene and she was curious as to our finding humor in the way she had won the battle of the toy. While I do have some concerns at the enormous responsibility of keeping up with her for the next days, the of wonderment  in witnessing the rapid development of this new little person, who walks and makes her own decisions, laughs with delight, and hugs you like she means it will be a treat that I am looking forward to with an unexpected glee. Grandparent hood, yeah it’s all it’s cracked up to be, and more.