Other People’s Kids

“All unattended children will be given espresso and a free puppy.”

                                          ….sign in a shop window

I sympathize with the owner’s wry sentiment.  It’s a tiny store with narrow aisles and plenty of kids roaming among the knick-knacks. I’ve been known to avoid stores entirely until the kids go home.  It’s not their fault.  Kids are doing what comes naturally – testing the rules, wandering away from their parents, bumping into things  and picking up breakables.  If their parents look away for a couple of seconds, kids will leave the store with the goods.  That’s how they sometimes behave. 

I was always the person annoyed by screaming babies on the plane.  Sure I knew they couldn’t help it, but since I’d pretty much raised mine, I deserved a break,  so whenever possible, I changed seats. 

I like kids but I was never anybody’s Universal Mama.  I didn’t try to befriend every child I met and didn’t ask to hold every new baby.  I enjoyed raising mine more than anything else I’ve done so far, but after she took her own steps into the world, I was content getting back to my own life.

A few years ago, sitting in the boarding area at San Francisco International, a baby screamed and the parents couldn’t comfort her.  Something inside me shifted.  My first thought was not the usual – I hope they don’t sit near me on the plane.  Nope.  This time it was  – why aren’t those parents taking better care of that poor little thing?

The small town I live in is full of children.  Every other person in the checkout line is attached to a stroller.  One day I found myself making direct eye contact with a spiky-haired toddler with a messy face.  I don’t know what manner of sticky cookie had attacked him while his mommy shopped, but he grinned at me through the gook and I grinned right back at him and felt a pang when he left the market.

One day you’re minding your own business, steering clear of noisy kids and all of a sudden every child  – everybody’s child – becomes precious. 

Maybe the universe prepares a whole bunch of us for on-call nurturing duty because a new batch of vulnerable beings arrives every day.  Nature has been known to turn unusual species into willing caretakers so that babies and puppies and kittens and all manner of helpless creatures will find care when they need it. 

Ó Anita Garner 2009

What does “aging gracefully” mean anyway?

By Anita Garner

My mother, Fern, who taught me nothing about aging

I just came back from spending the weekend with a girlfriend in a nearby town.  Yes we still call ourselves “girlfriends” after more than three decades of adult friendship.  When we have a girls’ weekend we talk constantly, eat out, critique every movie, TV show, book and nutrition plan we’ve heard of and inevitably the subject turns to how it feels to be this age.

Becoming a grandmother isn’t what made me realize I’m aging.  It started when my last parent passed.  That’s when I first listened to whispers of my own mortality.  Every morning one of the whispers says, “Better get moving.  Get to doing.”

Occasionally I don’t feel all that graceful when I wake up and parts of me don’t work as well as they used to.  Knees, I’m talking to you.  At first I’m annoyed, but by the end of the day I ask myself, what did you expect?  Things aren’t brand new anymore.

I learned nothing from my upbringing about aging gracefully.  My mother’s only advice about the passing years was to encourage the use of more moisturizer so boys will like you.  She considered all men potential boyfriends and in her teens she married a man who, through some combination of mercy and grace, turned into a grown-up husband who behaved like her sweetheart all the days of their lives.  He raised his wife along with us kids while she clung tenaciously to the role of teenager, even in the face of some gritty realities.

When I got my first mailer from AARP I jumped right into their arms.  There I was coasting along in the vague category of “somewhere past her mid-forties” and as long as my grown daughter wasn’t around, nobody knew for sure.  Then came that AARP card and full disclosure set in.  It felt like a kind of freedom.

I asked my mother once on a particularly significant birthday, did she feel any different?  She said what we’ve all heard a million times, that she still felt 18 inside.

I’ve had several significant birthdays of my own since I asked her that and now I know what she meant.  She was also right about the moisturizer.  Much more of it is required. Most days I don’t care whether taking good care of my skin (I still do it) makes anyone like me better because another surprise about getting older is that it doesn’t matter as much what anyone else things.  I wish my mother had allowed herself to enjoy that part.

During this latest girlfriend weekend we agreed that aging doesn’t feel like a cause for despair but instead it feels more like a gift every year, something we get to do if we’re lucky.  Aging gratefully is something I wish my mother had understood.


Two And A Half Men, Goodbye

I’ve watched Two And A Half Men since it began, not because I was especially drawn to the premise but because there weren’t many half hour sitcoms left to choose from, and that whole CBS Monday night block is a breath of fresh air.  The show must have tons of viewers, since Charlie  Sheen is said to be the highest paid actor on television. 

It always did require considerable suspension of disbelief to accept the character, “Charlie,” as a stud.  And boy do we get to see and hear lots of examples of his sexual conquests.  I keep thinking maybe this show is meant for a male audience because I don’t know any women who’re drawn to that type.  He dresses like a little boy.  Wears  shorts all the time, and those ’50’s-era bowling shirts – didn’t a costume person already put them on Kramer on Seinfeld?  I believe that helped establish Kramer’s character as a kook, but I’m not sure how the costuming works with Charlie as a sex symbol.

After years of watching (I automatically dvr CBS on  Monday nights) I realize I’m hardly paying attention and am fast-forwarding through the meanest parts. Then I figured out it’s because, to me, it’s all mean.  I gave it one more week.  Last week I watched closely, waiting for the funny.  I never found it.

It’s not the acting.  Charlie Sheen is a talented man.  It’s the role and it’s the show.  Sure, there are some good parts -good acting also from Jon Cryer as Charlie’s brother, Alan,  and Holland Taylor as the mom and Conchata Ferrell as housekeeper, Berta, but even those well-drawn characters aren’t enough to make the premise enjoyable for me.  

I’m weary of everyone picking on Alan.  I understand how tragedy can become comedy, how in the right hands any sad story can have its smiles, but I can’t find the smiles here.  Alan gets a divorce, loses his house, has to move in with his brother, Charlie, who week after week reminds him that he’s always been a loser.  And then Charlie lets him know that he resents the money this whole brother-helping-brother thing is costing. 

Everyone makes fun of Alan’s son, Jake  (Angus T. Jones) who’s portrayed as a stupid/gross teenager.  Does he need to be only that, all the time? 

The show is unremittingly mean and dark and instead of being funny, it’s cringe-worthy.  Maybe it’s the times.  Maybe it’s just me.  I’m not in the mood these days.  So today I entered “Do Not Record This Series.” I’ve still got Big Bang Theory and How I Met Your Mother. 

Ó Anita Garner 2009

Our Computer Is The Family’s Scrapbook

When my granddaughter was born four years ago, I put photos of her into every kind of photo-saving device – albums, scrapbooks, Grandma’s brag book, refrigerator magnet frames, etc.  Trouble was, I took so many photos and received so many, that they started getting ahead of me.  When I want to show someone how she’s grown, most often I go for the jpg’s on the computer and attach them to an email.   It’s an extra  step to update wallet photos and to continue buying albums to put on the bookshelf, so I stopped. 

Now I have hundreds of pictures on my computer.  Lord help me if this thing ever crashes. I’m thinking I’ll get another flash drive and transfer them.  Maybe if, as soon as I put them onto my computer, I also save them to flash drive, I’ll be protected. 

My little girl was visiting me recently and she likes to watch the Windows Slideshow Screensaver.   One day I left the computer for a while and when I returned, I found her standing in the doorway reciting, as if for an unseen audience:

“My birthday party.   Skyla’s birthday.  School.  Mommy.  Abba.  Me and Hammy (that’s me).”

And on and on.  When pictures of her as an infant pop up,  she adds  a story from her imagination about what said baby in the photo was thinking, i.e. “That baby wants to ride my scooter.”  She knows the picture is of her, but she enjoys making up her “That baby” stories.

I don’t know how the sequence of slides is determined, but it seems like we get the same ones over and over for a few days and then up comes one we haven’t seen before.  I suspect when I add to my endless jpg’s from another source, they reshuffle.   I recently put in a bunch of vintage pictures.  The little one was standing behind me when a new one came up and she asked  “Who’s that?”  I told her that is her great-grandmother, that the lady in the photo onscreen is my mommy.  Then I showed her a picture of my parents together.  

Next time I found her in the doorway narrating the slideshow, she had assimilated these people (who passed away before she was born) into her performance.  She said, like a tour guide, “That’s Hammy’s mommy.  That’s Hammy’s Abba.”  Then as I walked by, she paused.  It must be a work in progress, and she wasn’t ready to reveal it yet.  Soon she’ll come up with something interesting about them and I’ll be eager to hear it.  That’s something no mere photo album can offer.

Ó Anita Garner 2009