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Oh Happy Spring! The sun is out, the daffodils are smiling, and the Love Bug is on Spring Break. It’s a rare opportunity for me to have some alone time with my granddaughter – usually her adorable and exuberant little brother is tagging along, or a parent or two. But lucky me, this week we had a day to ourselves to design dream catchers, share crepes for lunch, and skip to the Farmer’s Market for salted peanut butter ice cream with chocolate flakes.

But the absolute best time is when we get to talk in the car. There is no one else to control the radio in the front seat, or play imaginary games in the back seat. So I opened up the sunroof and blasted Bach on our sound system! If you go to the Google Doodle today, you’ll see why Bach is all over classical stations – it’s his 334th birthday! You’ll also be able to interact with an AI composer… which is awesome btw! https://www.classicfm.com/composers/bach/birthday-google-doodle-ai-game/

The Baroque composer played and worked for princes and churches. His stunning harmonies never fail to move me, and in particular I could listen to the Brandenburg Concertos forever. Bach was a master of  something called “….counterpoint, (this) is the way notes move alongside each other in harmony. Bach is particularly famous for the complexity of his counterpoint, often creating incredibly intricate harmonies beneath simple chorale melodies – with beautiful results to the listeners.”

Back to the present, there we were, on the first day of Spring, with the sun shining through the roof of my car when Ms Bug asked me if Bach was deaf? And honestly I didn’t know, I mean wasn’t Beethoven deaf? I turned down the music as she told me the story of a composer who was conducting his orchestra with his eyes closed so he didn’t see that the musicians had stopped, and he was deaf so he couldn’t hear either.

Someone had to gently turn him around to the audience so he could see them clapping.

Granted her school has an awesome music program, where the arts are thoroughly integrated into every grade’s curriculum, not treated as an after-school-after-thought.  But I was still amazed as we discussed what a deficit like that might have done to a musician. My almost 7 year old granddaughter has a mind that rarely slows down, and a gift for compassion. Suddenly I asked her which she would rather – “Would you rather be deaf or blind?”

I know it’s a hard question at any age. I’ve witnessed what deafness has done to Great Grandpa Hudson, I’ve lost some of my own vision over the years and still it’s a question I’d rather not even ponder, but for some strange reason I asked it. Making sense of this world can be challenging; and here she was on the brink of the Age of Reason. Plus, I loved hearing the Love Bug think out loud.

She said immediately, “I’d rather be blind.”

Of course there’s no right answer. It’s like asking “Which super power would you have if you were a super hero?” It’s fantastical, theoretical, and absurd. A Sophie’s Choice in a Willy Wonka world. But the Bug would miss her mother’s voice, her father singing her to sleep, the sounds of spring.

And I thought to myself, would I miss reading the news, the news junkie that I used to be when I was a reporter. Could I adapt to audible books? Would I miss seeing the sun rise and fall? Would I still take pleasure in cooking if I didn’t see what I was doing, if I could only smell and taste a dish? Would it even be safe to make ravioli? Maybe, because I could play Bach’s Brandenburg Concertos and Chopin’s violin concertos, and I would be able to revel in the Rocker’s compositions.

Later on with Pop Bob, we stood in the middle of the enormous bell towers at the Bicentennial Capitol Mall when the hour struck, and all around us we heard the dulcet tones of the TN Waltz. Bob asked me to dance, and the Bug smiled.

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This weekend we had our very first double sleepover. We picked up both Grandkids around lunchtime Saturday and returned them to their grateful parents on Sunday. Bob warned me not to get my hopes up, four year olds may meltdown at bedtime and need to go home in his PJs. I however, would have none of that thinking, we were going to have so much fun, my L’il Pumpkin would forget where he was and sleep like an angel. Which, spoiler alert, they both did!

When we arrived at our townhouse it was cold and drizzly with an Amazon box on the front porch. I’d been collecting beads and jewelry making tools for the Love Bug for awhile now, and had recently found a cute craft box for her. She is very much like my daughter, her Mama; type A, hyper-organized, in love with the Container Store. I knew she’d love her craft box, but I needed something for her brother.

Thank goodness for two day delivery service. I ordered a small tackle box and a bunch of kid-sized real tools for the L’il Pumpkin. I had a plan but forgot to tell Bob about it, luckily he pitched right in – explaining each tool, then trudging up the steps together, they began “fixing” things, including the squeaky daybed he and his sister would be sleeping on that night!

I know – raising gender neutral kids is new to me, though I did help the Pumpkin make a Black Panther necklace!

Then we went out for a trek in Ms Berdelle’s Secret Garden. We searched in the misty rain for Tinkerbell trim – small, delightful pieces of nature to design and  construct a fairy house: pine cones, bark, leaves, dead flowers, berries, stones, snail shells. Anything glorious and small would do. I didn’t dig up moss for a thatched roof because Bob said it’s still living and we’re not arguing anymore over little things like that.

Every summer at Camp St Joseph for Girls I loved hiking through the woods and coming upon a fairy circle; a large, round patch of sumptuous moss surrounded by ferns in the dappled sunlight. I’m sure my love of mystery and magic began there in the Catskill Mountains many years ago.

When we returned home I started cooking dinner for four again! Mrs Zimmerman’s shallot chicken, mashed potatoes (little clouds), and broccoli (little tress). At Nana and Pop Bob’s house they can watch TV while I’m cooking and eat as little or as much as they want. It warmed my heart to see how much these two love butter! We followed that up with popsicles because we’re saving popsicle sticks for the fairy house. Then we played a good game of Alphabet Fish and the Li’il Pumpkin won!

After pulling out the trundle bed, we read my Editor Lisa Winkler’s book about a girl named Zimmerman, “Amanda at Bat” https://www.amazon.com/Amanda-at-Bat-Lisa-Winkler/dp/1533240094  It is a wonderful story about speaking up and making sure your voice is heard. And their eyes were starting to droop by the end of “Escargot,” while the Frozen night light sent its bat signal onto the ceiling of our 2nd bedroom. Good Night Room.

Long story semi-short, we all slept like babies and Bob made blueberry pancakes in the morning. Then we high-tailed it off to Great Grandma Ada and Hudson’s apartment to build our fairy house. Bob and I had made an executive decision to skip Hebrew School, sorry cousin Nancy! We’ve made a brave start jockeying a glue gun like nobody’s business, and we’re relying on Hudson to carve a tiny crooked fairy door. We have a very special tree stump in mind… then the Bride arrived to pick them up.

I was going to write about orchid and dandelion children. How one needs special care and an exquisite environment, while the other will flourish no matter where they find themselves. That’s the program I was listening to on NPR when I sat down to write, an old rehash of nature vs nurture. My Love Bug was definitely a wild orchid baby, the kind who would wake at the sound of a pin dropping, while her brother could sleep through a smoke alarm.

And I realized that I was a mixture of the two, a child who was smothered by my foster mother Nell, and never allowed to have a sleepover, yet my St Joseph camp mates could never wake me when it was time to head out into the night looking for trouble. But don’t worry, I found my own trouble eventually!

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One thing about Nashville, it’s never boring.

It’s been a cold and busy reentry; waiting for Uber at the airport, freezing in a 20 degree wind tunnel wearing a summer dress, should have been my first clue. Getting back to reality would usually take some time, but my island speed shifted into overdrive fast. Our beautiful NC niece Tammy was visiting her Grandmother Ada, so we made some delicious, authentic ravioli for a small dinner party, and yesterday was game day for the Love Bug!

I’m not talking football here, it’s Firely Piggies girls basketball.

They still sometimes head down the court in the wrong direction, pink shirts and pigtails flying. But they won one and lost one, so we all had a blast. And who doesn’t like a concession stand with soda and candy? Still, since the weather here is warming rapidly, I longed for a completely unscheduled day with the Grands. Just some time to sit on the porch, or play “Go Fish,” or even ride around the neighborhood on bikes.

The word “boring” was banned in my house. Whenever the young Bride or Rocker would discover this word I’d immediately put the kibosh on it! “Look around you,” I’d say, “there is so much to do, only boring people get bored!” I was happy to notice this same reaction in my daughter when her children would gaze up at her, in the middle of paradise, and say, “I’m bored Mama.”

We would scoff, they would laugh, and finally she would admonish them. Then off they would go, to create a pretend shelter in their room for homeless people – pillows for beds and seashells for food. Such young altruism made my heart sing.

But I’m afraid parents today feel it’s their duty to keep their children entertained at all times. They have grown up in an age of “stranger danger” meaning only constant vigilance will do; free play time has become an archaic term. My kids rode their bikes to the school bus. Mothers now are being arrested for leaving their child in a car for a few minutes.

Last week, while discussing humbugs, the L’il Pumpkin told me he may have actually seen one, or it might have been his imagination… And this is exactly what I love to encourage – imagination, curiosity, creativity, a sense of wonder! Sometimes I would keep the Rocker home from school and call it a “mental health day.” Children need space to grow and dream.

Lin-Manuel Miranda once credited his “…unattended afternoons with fostering inspiration. “Because there is nothing better to spur creativity than a blank page or an empty bedroom,” he said.  https://www.nytimes.com/2019/02/02/opinion/sunday/children-bored.html

Maybe growing up an “Only,” with plenty of time on my own, is why the blank page never scared me! I’ll be attending a restorative yoga class this afternoon (thanks MaryAnn), while everyone else is watching Super Bowl Sunday or Puppy Bowl antics. Whatever you’re planning this #SundayFunday, I hope you stay UN-bored y’all.

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I’m listening to Terry Gross’ interview with Bo Burnham, who wrote and directed “Eighth Grade,” his first feature film. He’s talking about social anxiety and social media and the confluence of our hyper-connectivity and how it’s different growing up today.

Burnham was an early YouTube star, in high school, performing his own satirical songs in his bedroom. The songs went viral, he went to MTV, and the rest is history.

‘The digital gap used to be between those people who grew up before computers and smartphones and those who were digital natives. Now, there’s a gap between those who grew up with Facebook and those who grew up with Snapchat and Instagram.’

https://www.npr.org/2018/12/27/680356663/director-bo-burnham-on-growing-up-with-anxiety-and-an-audience

The Rocker was born in 1984, and I vividly remember taking him out to a greasy spoon breakfast in Little Silver, NJ. We ordered Western omelets, with a side of their special waffle fries and bacon. A group of middle school boys drove up on their bikes, dropped them in the dirt and plowed into the restaurant giggling and pushing and shoving. They sat down in a booth and flipped open their phones. The Rocker looked me in the eyes and said,

“Ma, I’m glad we didn’t have cell phones in school.”

He was home from college for a break. Having breakfast together again was a ritual I’d been missing. As a toddler, I would happily make him breakfast number 1, and breakfast number 2, because his motor ran fast. The future Rocker was always hungry for action and adventure, but mornings were sacred. His big sister would go off to school and we would have a slow start to a jam-packed day.

If he ate a great morning meal, or two meals, then food for the rest of the day was optional. Remember, my foster parents belonged to the “Clean Plate Club.” Food battles would not define my parenting style!

I can also remember that day on our deck, overlooking the Blue Ridge, when the Rocker told me that Facebook was so over. He and Aunt KiKI signed me up for Instagram – she took my picture in a sun hat and he picked my moniker – it was love at first sight.

So who could blame me if I thought our L’il Pumpkin should be the next YouTube star?

Have you heard of Ryan, the 7 year old making gazillions of dollars opening up toys, screaming with delight, and playing with them? His mama started uploading his videos to YouTube when he was 4, and by last year he had made 22 Million dollars!

“What’s almost as baffling as the amount of money that Ryan has made before his eighth birthday is why today’s kids would rather tune in to watch another one play with toys than play with toys themselves. The answer, it seems, is that today’s kindergarten set lives vicariously through Ryan.” https://www.forbes.com/sites/maddieberg/2018/12/03/how-this-seven-year-old-made-22-million-playing-with-toys-2/#1ecce4d54459

He’s had 26 Billion views on his channel, “Ryan Toys Review” and now he’s got his own toy brand at Walmart. He is a part of what’s known as “Unboxing” in advertising slang; people who film themselves opening mostly tech things and demonstrating how to use them.

The Bride looked at me with horror. Her child? A YouTube star?? I guess it is different for kids growing up today on social media. Their parents are on a spectrum of embracing technology with them, to becoming Luddites. Forging an identity online, counting followers to validate your existence, finding out you missed the big 8th grade party on Insta.

IF you could live your life without an audience, would your life still exist?

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We picked up the L’il Pumpkin at school mid-morning. It was going to be a fun day, going to the Children’s Theatre to see The Little Mermaid, then lunch and on to Hannukah. But we had a long holding session in the lobby before the play with a few other schools, so I headed over to the large center table covered with paper, crayons and writing prompts.

“Ariel and her father the King are having trouble understanding each other. What do you wish adults could understand better about children?”

“What do you think,” I asked my little grandson.

“Listening,” he said without missing a beat.

And a light went off; I thought about the term “active listening,” like some ancient artifact that had washed ashore in my brain, back before parenthood. While studying child psychology, I knew even before reading a text that some people are checked out when it comes to their kids, and some are just naturally checked IN.

This was long before we had tiny smart phones to ding and buzz our attention away from our children. Just as we need context to read and comprehend, we need to hear between the lines in order to communicate well with little people. Sure meltdowns can happen, but if we are paying attention, we can usually avoid them.

I was recently involved in a conversation with one of Great Grandma Ada’s friends. He had been a professor at Vanderbilt in his youth, now well into his 90s he liked to paint beautiful, vivid landscapes. I was aware of how effortlessly we spoke, and it’s hard to remember what exactly we spoke about, but it started with Brexit. The rare thing of beauty was that here was a man who was listening – he wasn’t turning his head away, or nodding, or looking at his watch. He was engaging, and our words flew elegantly back and forth.

You don’t have to be a Disney princess to get into hot water with your parents. The L’il Pumpkin told me he was glad Ariel smashed the magic shell containing her voice, thereby breaking the sea witch Ursula’s spell. I thought about the many voiceless women, throughout his/herstory, who were destined to live a constrained life; tied up in apron strings, never learning to drive a car (like Nelly, my foster mother), living in a “Doll’s House” like Nora herself, or Shakespeare’s Rosalind before her.

I hope our grandson grows up to be a good listener, to be a mensch. Watching him skip back to our car, holding Bob’s hand in the parking lot, my heart melted a little.

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I love seeing the flood of Back-to-School pictures on my Facebook feed. First graders and first year in high school, they all look so fresh-faced and eager; but I guess if your child has been dreading the start of school, well, the first day might be different. Maybe she/he has experienced bullying? Or maybe, the sheer number of school shootings has them worried, do they really feel safe at school?

Not to worry, Betsy DeVos is considering using our tax dollars to fund arming our teachers and training them to carry guns… against all sane advice to the contrary from law enforcement, pediatricians and teachers’ unions. Our children are now practicing “active shooter drills” the way we had fire drills.

Our government has also approved a 1.8 million dollar grant for “School-Age Trauma Training,” ie to teach kids what to do to help their wounded friends. First Aid for First Grade. And now, bless our hearts, the Department of Education is considering using federal money set aside for “Student Enrichment” to fund gun-toting teachers.

I thought student enrichment meant field trips or maybe a special gifted and talented program? Maybe some band instruments? How about after-school-programs???

I was student teaching when Columbine happened. I’d gone back to graduate school and was placed in a middle school for a year. I remember the shock in the teacher’s lounge, a place I rarely visited. I remember the way the disaffected loner students retreated further. That feeling of helplessness, foreboding. Columbine happened nearly two decades ago, and here we are.

Those of us who do NOT watch Fox News on a feedback loop day after day may be wondering how we can continue, as a nation, to allow school tragedies like Newtown and Parkland to continue unabated. I was surprised to read that the DOE has already allowed teachers to carry guns in 14 states! The stranglehold of NRA money fuels a corrupt system that is uniquely American. Out of 23 countries with the highest-income in the world, the USA stands near the top of a deplorable list: 82% of all gun deaths – 90% of all women killed by guns – and 92% of all children killed either accidentally or on purpose by a gun.

Media reports of school shootings capture headlines, the way a lone suicide with a handgun never will. And yet, suicide is the most prevalent reason young people die in this country. But the heck with universal background checks and banning assault weapons or stopping loopholes in the law that allow spousal abusers to purchase firearms. Let’s just put more handguns in school, shall we? https://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-45288773

Betsy, Betsy, Betsy please reconsider your boss’ insane idea.

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There was a time in my life, well probably more than one time if we count near-miss car accidents, when I thought I might die. It was a year between the births of my two children; the last miscarriage was brutal and I ended up back in the hospital with sepsis. My roomie was an older Polish woman who spoke very little English, still I understood her. She had me fetch her rosary beads out of her purse and asked me to pray with her.

The words flowed easily from my mouth, hailing Mary I thought about how comforting it was for her and me! And just the other day with Great Grandma Ada, I happened upon another set of wooden rosary beads. She told me a woman had given them to her in Africa.

But it was the picture this morning on my social feed of rosary beads that are being confiscated at the border of our country that sent chills down my spine. How can this be happening here? Will rosary beads pile up in an exhibition, like so many gold teeth or shoes in Auschwitz, in some future museum to our Central American immigrants?

When border patrol agents separate young children from their families, they are not just inflicting harm, they are telling the world that we allowed this…here. And I cannot.

Even though Mr T’s job approval rating has gone up to 45 percent with HIS “zero tolerance” policy, and who ARE these people…I cannot abide by it.

Even when Pro Publica released an audio tape of children as young as 4 – our Pumpkin is almost 4 – crying for their parents while a guard says,

“We have an orchestra here. What’s missing is a conductor.”

I will not accept this. We need to call Flake, Collins and every single GOP legislator with a phone and a conscience. We need to rally the White House. We need to give to RAICES Texas to help fund legal services for immigrant families! https://actionnetwork.org/groups/raices-refugee-and-immigrant-center-for-education-and-legal-services

We need to be the conductors of compassion and stop this insane policy. Because praying can only get you so far. We know that one young girl has been raped by a guard – https://www.dallasnews.com/news/crime/2018/06/17/texas-deputy-accused-sexually-assaulting-4-year-old-threatened-mom-deportation-sheriff-says

When will a child die of an asthma attack in the heat, in a cage? Because we know this will happen.

https://www.texasmonthly.com/news/whats-really-happening-asylum-seeking-families-separated/

What will you do?

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