Monday, May 7, 2018

The Day There was Poop on My Porch

If you do not enjoy reading stories pertaining to bodily fluids, this blog post is not for you.  I’m actually not crazy about stories pertaining to bodily fluids, but since having twin boys, they seem to be my lot in life.

Some of you may remember my bodily fluid laden posts about potty training some five or six months ago.  At the time, Ryan was taking to potty training like a champ while Joel showed little to no interest. Fast forward to now, and those crafty little guys have traded places.  Joel has been trained for months, and Ryan hasn’t been trained since mid January.

I have known I needed to re-double my efforts with Ryan for some time, but I simply haven’t had the energy.  After spending a good six weeks carefully training him and then his brother, I just didn’t feel like dealing with that kind of crap (pun intended) all over again.

But summer, along with the boys’ third birthday, has brought new motivation.  I chose Monday as our triumphant return to potty training boot camp.  I gathered the supplies Sunday night:  towels, wash cloths and baby wipes for clean up and plenty of extra shorts.  I set them all neatly on the counter downstairs and went to bed, hopeful that since Ryan had been trained once before, it would be relatively painless (and relatively mess-less) this time around.

In the morning I put Ryan in a pair of loose fitting shorts with no underwear (according to the potty training research I’ve done, it’s much more disconcerting to have an accident without underwear on, which supposedly leads to faster results).  I made a big deal about how we were all finished wearing diapers during the day, and both boys marched down the stairs chanting ‘NO MORE DIAPERS!!’ at the tops of their little lungs.

Ryan had a small accident before we left to take the girls to school.  He helped clean up the floor and then to his delight and Nicole’s horror, nakedly chased his sister around the living room while she yelled, “Eeew, don’t touch me!”

After dropping the girls off at school, I drove to McDonald’s for my daily iced tea.  If I had known how the rest of the morning was going to progress, I would have gotten something stronger…

The whole way home from McDonald’s Joel repeatedly asked, “I see bug?”  

Because with twin boys, apparently bugs are also my lot in life.  Even though it’s only May, it’s June bug season here in Missouri.  Which means our porch and garage are always littered with at least a few of the marble sized beetles lying on their backs, either dead or on their way to dead.  Ryan and Joel find this absolutely fascinating, and can spend good chunks of time running back and forth between the garage and porch, squatting and pointing and yelling, “I see bug!!”

I saw an opportunity to use their affinity for bugs and took it.  I told the boys that of course they could see the bugs, as long as Ryan went pee-pee in the potty first.  To my astonishment, it actually worked!  Ryan sat on the potty, peed, and yelled, “I did it!”

We both clapped, high fived, and celebrated with a peanut m&m, because I am the kind of parent who uses non-organic, sugary bribes.  Then we ran outside to look at the bugs.

I was so pleased with the way boot camp was progressing, and the boys were so pleased with the dying June bugs that I thought I’d call my parents for a chat.  I figured they’d probably want to congratulate me on my parenting prowess, and also they are the only ones who are reliably up by 7:30 am.

I had barely passed the ‘hello how are you’ portion of our phone call when I noticed Joel wiggling and Ryan holding the back of his pants.  I knew that there was a chance we were about to have two different problems, but when I asked both boys if they had to go potty, it was Joel that came running inside the house with me.

I figured I’d take care of Joel first, and then go back and get Ryan, hopefully before the sh*t hit the fan, or in this case the pavement.

I sat Joel on the potty with my phone still balanced between my shoulder and my ear.  In my haste to get back outside to Ryan, I failed to remind Joel to point down.  Pee arced past my line of vision and began dribbling down the wainscoting.  I determined that this was perhaps not the time to be congratulated on my parenting prowess and told my dad I’d call him later.

Because Ryan was outside on the porch by himself, I knew I’d have to clean up the mess later.  I hurried Joel back into his shorts, washed his hands, and ran to the front door to check on Ryan.

By the time I got past the childproof knob and wrenched the door open, Ryan was gone.  I looked left and right and called his name hopefully, but there was no answer.  Then I looked down and saw a moderately sized pile of poo on the front walk.

I deduced that one of two things had happened.  Either A, an enemy had stolen my child and to add insult to injury, had left a pile of crap on my sidewalk, or B (and this was the option I found more likely), Ryan had produced the turd and was so shocked and ashamed when it fell out of his shorts that he went running to the back yard to hide.

Not surprisingly, scenario B was correct.  Joel and I found Ryan camped out in the upper level of the playhouse, a sheepish grin on his face.

So the moral of this story is….

Actually I’m not sure this story has a moral.  Maybe its purpose is just to put your Monday into perspective.  Because maybe you had to get up early to go back to work, or maybe you got stuck in traffic.  Maybe you had to yell at your kids twenty-five times to put on their shoes to go to school and maybe you had to say the words, “Please stop licking your brother’s hair.”  But probably you don’t have pee dripping down your wainscoting and a moderately sized poo on your front walk.

Friday, December 8, 2017

To The Parents of Well-Behaved Children

My two and a half year old twin boys are good at a lot of things.  They can climb the tallest walls at the playground.  Slide down the biggest slides.  They can use real cups and eat chili without making (too big of) a mess.  They can buckle their own booster seats and clear their places after meals.  They take three hour naps and sleep twelve hours at night.   They take turns and share (most of the time), and they say please, thank you, and you’re welcome.  They show compassion for others; they are helpful.  They give excellent hugs and kisses, high fives and fist bumps.  My boys are good at a lot of things.  But they are not good at sitting quietly.

Recently, a Facebook friend posted about attending a story time with her well behaved child.  She was frustrated by the number of kids who were not doing what they were supposed to.  I know exactly what she is talking about, and it broke my heart.  Because those are my kids.

We weren’t at that particular story time, but we’ve been to plenty of others.  And while the other children in attendance sat quietly with their parents, my boys ran full speed around the room.  While the other kids sang along to the welcome song, mine tried to open doors that were meant to stay closed.  During the first story, while the other kids told the librarian what cows say, mine climbed on chairs and giggled uproariously.  During ‘Twinkle Twinkle Little Star’, while the well behaved children sang along, mine let out unbridled war cries and took turns tackling each other.  My twins touched the felt board, over and over and over again, even though they were asked politely not to.

The boys were having a fabulous time, but I was in hell.  I grabbed at little wrists as they flew by in an attempt to keep little bodies from ricocheting around the room. I stood in front of doors, my hands guarding the handles.  I scooped little boys down off of chairs and tried to corral them in my lap repeatedly.  I sang along animatedly, hoping to get the boys interested in the activities.  I constantly worried whether it would be more distracting to go to the front and retrieve the boys from the felt board or to sit in the back and wait for them to get tired of it on their own.  On those rare occasions that we made it until the end of story time, I tossed hurried apologies over my shoulder to the librarian before darting after whichever boy had already escaped into the lobby.

More often than not, I left halfway through story time in tears, hauling sixty-five pounds of screaming, writhing toddlers evenly distributed under my arms.  But for a while, I kept going back anyway.  

Because I desperately want my boys to enjoy story time.  To be able to attend a music class.  I want them to learn to sit quietly and to become active listeners.  I thought the best way for that to happen was to keep practicing.  To keep attending story times and music classes until we had more good minutes than bad.

There were always one or two exceptionally kind parents at story time.  Fathers who told me that their sons were rowdy and loud and couldn’t sit still, just like mine, and that they can do all that and more now that they are in kindergarten.  Mothers who assured me that it was okay, that it would get better.  That we were all parents and everybody understood what it was like.

We were all parents, but I’m not convinced everybody understood what it was like.  Because I’ve been on the other side, the side with ‘well-behaved’ children, and I had no idea.  My girls sat through story times like champs and received nothing but praise in pre-school.  I could easily take them to the park by myself without worrying how I’d round them up and get them into the car when it was time to leave.

I may have thought the same things detailed on the Facebook post: that those poorly behaved children needed parents to set proper limits and insist on appropriate story time conduct so that it wasn’t ‘ruined’ for everyone else.  I may have wished those rowdy and loud children would stop going to the same story time as me, or stop going completely.  I may have thought those things, but I hope I didn’t.

Parents of well-behaved children, please be tolerant.  Please be kind.  Please understand that the frustration you feel when you see kids acting out is nothing compared to the frustration their parents feel.  Because parenting is never easy.  It’s joyful, amusing, messy, daunting and gratifying, but never easy.  Parenting is hard in all kinds of ways, and we each have our own struggles and successes.

To the parents of well-behaved children: the ones whose kids who sit and speak quietly, who follow the rules and happily hold your hand when you are in a parking lot,  I commend you.  Without your children leading quietly by example, pre-schools, story times and grocery stores would be absolute chaos.  Children’s Librarians would quit and the cost of day care would triple.  Your children will become the steady force that gently pushes society into order and helps the world change for the better.

And to the parents of the rabble-rousers, the rapscallions, the imps.  To the parents whose kids play hard, love hard, live hard, and live loud, all while in continuous motion, I commend you too.  Your children teach patience and add color to everything they touch (unfortunately sometimes literally).  Your children will become the interminable force that rocks society to its core and helps the world change for the better. 

To all the parents: hang in there.  As a wise woman once told me, “I can’t guarantee it will get easier, but I can guarantee it will get different.”

Thursday, December 7, 2017

How We Roll with Twins: Potty Training, Day 3

Well, the moment we’ve all been waiting for arrived.  Last night, our Baby Bjorn potties were delivered!!  I was at work so I missed all the fun, but Chris filled me in when I got home.  Apparently both boys enjoyed carting their new potties around, and both enjoyed wearing the liners of their potties like hats (We’d like to thank Henry, of “Potty Time for Big Boys” for that particular party suggestion).  They even hefted them onto the couch and sat on them like kings, ruling their peons from their thrones.  A good time was had by all.

I was eager to see how it would go with the new additions.  As has become our routine, I took off the boys’ diapers when we got back from dropping the girls off at school.  Only this time, I just left them naked from the waist down.

I’ve heard from several reliable sources that training can happen much faster with no clothes at all, and the evidence of Joel’s absolute terror upon finding a turd in his bed added proof to this theory.

I was willing to give it a try, though there were aspects of this that seemed risky.  Of course things could get messy, but it’s potty training.  Things are going to get messy.  The more pressing problem to me was the boys’ already well honed desire to not wear clothes.  

The first thing they do when I put them to bed is take off their shirts (and sometimes their pants).  The last time we went to the park, both boys had their socks, shoes, and shirts off within minutes.  A week ago we attended a toddler music class in the one of the classiest St. Louis neighborhoods.  Not only were my boys running around tackling each other like miniature WWF stars, they were doing it half naked.  It seemed that condoning nakedness at home might be a slippery slope, but it was a risk I was willing to take.

What a difference a day (plus nakedness and two tiny potties) can make.  Ryan had half an accident in the morning, but then no accidents the rest of the day.  He even had success with, ahem, number two.  (I’ve never in my life been so excited to see poop).

Joel was decidedly less interested in his potty, which is fine.  If there’s one thing I’ve learned in my ten years of parenting, it’s that you can lead a kid to the potty, but you can’t make him pee.  There are few things worse than attempting to potty train a kid who doesn’t want to be trained.  It’s messy.  Really messy.  And stressful for the parent and the child.

So the question is, where do we go from here?  I think if I were diligent and consistent with Ryan, he could likely be trained in the not too distant future.  However, for us, the not too distant future includes a trip to Washington for two weeks at my parents’ house, where the floors are carpeted and the carpet is new.  I think for the sake of their home, and my sanity, we will keep Ryan in diapers (or maybe pull-ups) for the time being and encourage him to use the potty whenever possible.  We’ll let Joel go at his own pace as well, and encourage him if he shows interest.

Through the years, I’ve lost track of the number of people who have told me not to worry too much about potty training.  That nobody’s kid goes off to kindergarten or college still wearing diapers.  And the mom part of me thinks, “Phew.  Thank goodness.”

But the mathematician part of me, the part that understands statistics, thinks, “Somewhere out there is a kid who will go off to kindergarten or college still wearing diapers.”  I just hope that kid isn’t mine.

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

How We Roll with Twins: Potty Training, Day 2 (Pee-pocalypse)

The little potties have still not arrived, and I debated whether we were even going to attempt training today.  But when we got back from taking the girls to school, Ryan asked to sit on the potty.

I figured I better capitalize on his interest, so I put both boys in big boy underwear and set the timer.  They both had wet diapers when I changed them, so I figured I was good for a couple of minutes while I ran some laundry upstairs.  Unfortunately, I figured wrong.

A sudden chorus of “uh-oh, wet! oh no!” rang out from the living room.  By the time I got back downstairs, Ryan was hopping up in down in a small puddle and Joel was running around in circles shouting “Ryan, wet!  Oh no!”

I took Ryan into the bathroom and cleaned him up.  When I poked my head out to check on Joel, I saw him standing still looking down at his pants.  He looked up at me for a second and then said, “uh oh.”  We both looked down.  A small puddle was forming between his legs.

What followed is a blur.  I actually can’t remember the details.  It just seemed that every where I looked, another little boy was peeing on my floor.  The floor was littered with small, wet, boxer briefs, and it felt like I had been cleaning and changing boys for hours.  

But then the oven timer went off, so it turns out the pee-spree had only lasted thirty minutes.  Thirty minutes I didn’t want to repeat any time soon.  Or well, ever.

It was back in diapers for the boys, and back to the kitchen for me for a well deserved Coke.  We’ll start potty training again when the little potties come.  Probably.

How We Roll With Twins: Potty Training, Day 1

Even though the potties from amazon have yet to arrive, I decided to go ahead with potty training this morning.  After dropping the girls off at school, we came back home and I let the boys each pick out a pair of ‘big boy underwear’ to put on.  I gated off the great room in the hopes that accidents would be contained to the hard floor.  Then I set the oven timer for 30 minutes, the plan being that I’d have the boys sit on the potty every half hour to start getting used to it.

The first time the timer went off, things were going swimmingly.  No accidents, and Ryan came with me happily to give it a try.  “I on da potty!” he announced loudly, his legs swinging back and forth over the sides of the toilet.

It was then that I noticed something that was bound to become a problem sooner or later.  I am no expert in potty training, or in physics, but I know just enough about boy parts and gravity to deduce that when little boys sit on the potty, their pee is not going to go where I want it to naturally.  With little girls, you have them lean forward a little, and I’m guessing there is some sort or trick with boys too (or maybe not, and that is why all my friends with boys say their bathroom floors are perpetually covered in urine). For now, I don’t have to worry about it because the point is just for them to sit on the potty and get used to it.

Anyway, we sang the ABCs, twice, and then Ryan and I both clapped on account of him being such a good boy.  I helped him off, washed his hands, and gave him his M&M reward for sitting on the potty.  I asked Joel if he was ready to sit on the potty.  He side eyed me and scowled at the same time.  “No.  No potty.”

I re-set the oven timer and did some dishes while the boys watched Kung Fu Panda.  When I turned off the water, I heard a noise that sounded alarmingly like splashing.  I found Ryan, sitting in a puddle, slapping his hands in it (?!?!).  “Water!” he shouted, gleefully.

I explained that it wasn’t water and that he had a pee-pee accident.  Once he was aware of this, he was happy to help clean up and put on clean pants.  Apparently all the cleaning made him a bit peckish, because then he asked to sit on the potty again and delightedly ate another M&M.

Joel saw him eating the M&M, and asked for one.  I told him of course he could have one.  He’d just have to sit on the potty first.  “No.  No potty,” he replied decisively. 

After several more trips to sit on the potty (Ryan), two accidents during snack time (Ryan and Joel), Ryan was definitely catching on to the whole M&M thing.  So much so that he visited the potty three times in the span of 2 minutes.  That’s when I started making him sit for longer amounts of time than just the ABC song.  Not so ironically, that’s also when he stopped asking to go every 30 seconds.

It was minutes later that a little boy came over to me and asked to sit on the potty.  I looked carefully at his face, because I thought the little boy would be Ryan, but it was in fact Joel.  I checked.  Twice.  And just like that, I had two boys willing to sit on the potty (in exchange for chocolate bribes).

That was plenty of success for one day.  Not wanting to push my luck, I stuck both boys back in diapers and put them down for a nap. 

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

How We Roll With Twins: Potty Training, Making the Decision To Train

Ready as they'll ever be...
Potty training experts agree that you should not attempt to potty train a child until they show signs of readiness.  These include telling a parent when they are wet or dirty, showing interest in bathroom habits, being able to sit quietly for a few minutes, and the ability to pull their pants up and down.

The boys are almost two and a half, so I’ve been on the lookout for these signs of readiness for a while now.  One morning I found them both buck naked in their cribs with their (thankfully just wet) diapers strewn on the floor, and I thought to myself, "Pants off.  Check."

A couple of days later, I went to get them from their cribs and Ryan pronounced happily, “I steen-ty!”  
“You’re stinky?” I asked, hoping to clarify.  
He threw his arms up in the air and yelled, “YEAAAAHH!!!!”
Awareness (and pride) of soiled diapers?  Check.

Over the next weeks, the boys were more often naked in their cribs than not, and I was beginning to think it might be time to start training, if for no other reason than to avoid washing sheets every day.

But the real push to potty train came when I heard the boys screaming in terror after I put them down for a nap.  I rushed up, thinking someone was hurt.  When I opened the door, Joel was naked and pointing at his blanket yelling, “blankie wet!!!!!”

It turned out blankie had been defiled, but it wasn’t wet.  Joel and I both turned to look in his crib at the same time.  Sitting just inches from his bare feet, on top of his Pottery Barn Kids whale sheets, were two medium sized turds.  Joel backed away and started crying again, “NOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!”

I’ve never read that fear of one’s own turds is a sign of readiness for potty training, but it probably is.  I went out and purchased two packs of tiny boxer briefs and a training seat, and loaded up on potty books and movies from the library.  My plan was to read them the books and show them the movies on Sunday and start the actual training on Monday.  

Allie and Coco were definitely on board to get this whole potty train moving.  Mostly because years ago when potty training the boys was nowhere on my radar, I may have said something like, “We are definitely not getting a cat before the boys are potty trained.”  What Allie and Coco heard was, “We will definitely get a cat the second the boys no longer need diapers.”

Anyway, the girls were more than happy to help speed things along.  Allie read the twins one of the books while they ate breakfast.  Unfortunately, Curious George was on the TV behind her, and the boys spent a lot more time yelling, “Nooo,” and shooing her away with their hands than they did listening about Henry, the little boy who discovered his potty was not a fish bowl or a hat or a bird bath.

We all sat in the basement and watched ‘The Potty Song’ followed by the “The Potty Movie,” and the girls and I wondered why Henry, who was able to brush his teeth, get dressed, put on his shoes and do calculus, was not yet able to use the potty.

One thing I did learn from all the books and movies was that it seemed everybody used those little potties and not the seat that just sits on the big potty.  With all of my kids, I’ve hoped and hoped that we wouldn’t need to use the little potty (because they’re gross), but with all my kids we’ve ended up using it, at least at first.  So I caved, and ordered two tiny potties from amazon prime.

That night, I decided to check on the boys over the video monitor one last time before I went to bed.  Joel was sleeping peacefully with his legs tucked under him and his blanket covering his back.  Ryan was also sleeping peacefully with his legs tucked under him and bum in the air.  “Umm, Chris?” I nudged him.  “Is that a crack?”  

Pants off?  Double check.

Saturday, November 25, 2017

Yellow Means Speed Up

There was a time that I was embarrassed to call my maternal grandmother, ‘Mumsy.’  I was neither British nor 5 years old, and the name felt awkward and juvenile.  Of course, I was in my early teens, so I was awkward and juvenile.

In retrospect, the name Davalee Bohnenkamp chose to have her grandchildren call her could not have been more fitting.  Though she wasn’t British, there was a certain properness about her.  A stern-ness that inspired children such as myself to sit up straight, keep our elbows off the table.  Be seen and not heard.  

My earliest memories of my grandmother are not really of her at all.  They are of epic phone calls between my mother and her, punctuated by visits where Mumsy and Mom would work on extensive sewing projects or redecorate a room.  There were ornaments every December accompanied by extravagant, ruffled Christmas dresses that required scratchy lace tights. 
Ruffled dresses, scratchy tights.
Every other summer, and the occasional Christmas, my family would fly from Seattle to Missouri to visit.  Mumsy’s home was immaculate.  By the time I can remember, her children had grown and left, and she had been widowed for years.  It was perhaps the absence of children and men that allowed her home to become what it was: a rich haven of floral prints, delicate accents, and ornate oil paintings.

My sister and I would tiptoe from pristine room to pristine room, enjoying the air conditioning that blasted away the sticky heat of a midwest summer.  We snooped through the forgotten belongings of our mother and aunt in their childhood room or played monopoly with our cousin.  We watched our uncles play tennis on the courts behind the house and climbed the low hanging branches of the juniper tree at the edge of the driveway.

Christmases with Mumsy were lively affairs.  The whole family would gather on Christmas Eve for food and conversation.  The night culminated in the shuffle shot gift exchange, where we all competed for the best items, and one of my uncles would inevitably go home with a pink scarf or baking tins.  The party would commence again on Christmas morning, when presents were opened and everybody could hunt for the pickle ornament hidden on the tree.  The prize for finding it was provided by Mumsy, and it would range from five dollars to one hundred, so I’ve heard.  The honorable distinction of finding the pickle was never mine.
Mumsy never went home with baking tins.

The summer of my 16th birthday, Mumsy invited my friend and I to her house for a tennis camp with my Uncle Marvin.  She had witnessed one of our abysmal losses on the courts, and where our coaches saw mediocrity, she saw potential.  Also, no one in her family had ever been abysmal at tennis, and damned if she was going to let that start with me.

Though our days began and ended on the courts, the time in the middle was our own.  Mumsy would work the daily jumble on scratch paper so that I could do it too, and we’d give each other hints on words the other struggled with.  We did crossword puzzles without the help of the internet, the table littered with encyclopedias, the dictionary, and the almanac.  

In the evenings, Mumsy would take us out to dinner somewhere in Park Hills or Farmington.  I remember her racing through a yellow light on the way saying, “Now, your driver’s ed teachers and your mothers won’t tell you this, but yellow means speed up!”

One Friday night, we returned from dinner to find traffic backed up all the way down Main Street.  Mumsy explained the-foreign-to-us concept of cruising, where the youth of town would drive from one end of the strip to the other blaring music, showing off their cars, and checking each other out.  To further enlighten us, she rolled down all the windows in her white Chevy Malibu and turned up the classical music until the speakers shook.  The three of us crept through main street, our heads thrown back in laughter as teenagers peered wide-eyed into our car with expressions of shock and amusement.

Graduation at Pacific University, Oregon
I went to graduate school an hour and a half away from Mumsy.  She and Mom came with me to help me get settled.  I had purchased an entertainment center from Sauder.  It was the kind that came in a big, heavy box and required fourteen hours of assembly if you were an engineer, more if you were not.  We opened the boxes and arranged the pieces neatly on the floor, ready to begin.  Mumsy swiped up the instruction booklet and began to read, “Place part A into part B, and use part C to secure.”  We muddled through for a while before I asked to see the instructions for myself.  Mumsy peered out over the top of the pages, her eyebrows raised.  “You don’t need to see them, because I am telling you what they say.  Now, just connect parts F and G using four part Ls.”

Throughout grad school, I spent the occasional weekend with Mumsy, braving the curvy backroad drive from Rolla to Park Hills in my ’89 Cabriolet.  We still did the jumbles and the crosswords.  We spoke about books we’d read, current events, and the topics of her most recent Monday Club.  I’d pour over old albums, marveling at the pictures of Mumsy as a young woman and watching my mom, aunt and uncles grow up through the pages.

Mumsy regaled me with stories from the past and present.  She told me about the time the Jehovah Witnesses showed up at her door wanting to speak to her about religion. She invited them in for tea and listened to all they had to say.  Then she brought out her bible and her book of Morman and began sharing her thoughts on various religions.  She laughed gleefully when she told me, “As keen as they were to come into my house and tell me what to believe, they sure didn’t like it happening to them!”  It was probably the only time Jehovah Witnesses have been seen running away from a house.

Mumsy told me about meeting her husband, Marvin.  Their first date was Mumsy’s high school play.  She acted the lead while Marvin watched on from the audience.

She told me about the time she was at the theatre seated behind a man and a woman.  The couple kept leaning together, making it impossible for Mumsy to see.  “I blew gently on their necks so that they felt just a little draft and learned not to lean in that way,” she said, her eyes sparkling.

One of my favorite pictures is of Mumsy brushing my mom’s hair.  My mother was three or four years old at the time, neatly clothed in a dress and patent leather shoes and seated on the kitchen counter, her legs dangling down.  Mumsy stood behind her, radiant, with hair and make up already complete. It could have been a poster for the fifties.  I know there was a time when Mumsy wore thin-waisted dresses, cooked elaborate meals and spent her days keeping children and keeping house.  

But to me, Mumsy was Alfred Dunner pant suits and Diet Coke with a straw.  Little Debbies for dinner and omelettes from the Schwann’s man for breakfast.  She had email and online banking, and she played and won thousands of Spider Solitaire games, keeping track of the numbers of the few games she couldn’t solve.  She owned and actually used an iPad and a Wii at the age of 80.  She played ping pong at 85.  She was as likely to spend an afternoon at the symphony as she was to spend it watching a Cardinals’ game. 
Mumsy at Greg's baseball game.

We call aging, ‘growing old’, but it isn’t growing so much as it is becoming smaller.  We become more stooped, less energetic.  We see less, hear less, and remember less.  We become less able to care for ourselves.  

Fortunately, with the enormous support of her children and caregivers, Mumsy was able to spend most of her life at her home, which she designed herself, right down to the front door with it’s door knob smack dab in the center.  She lived with her two cats, Putty-Tat and Tinker Bell, who enjoyed the kind of lives most cats can only dream of.
Living the good life.

When pneumonia and an infection made it impossible to keep Mumsy at home any longer, her children made the difficult decision to move her to Parc Provence, an assisted care facility.  It is the kind of place that at one point, Mumsy would have appreciated.  It’s halls are adorned with handsome wood wainscoting, elaborate crystal chandeliers, and enormous golden bird cages.

When I visited Mumsy at Parc Provence, it was so saturated with old people in wheel chairs that I had a hard time picking out which one was her.  Her head was slumped, her back curved, her ankles swollen.  Her cheeks were hollow, and the gleam in her eyes was gone.  When I spoke to her, she seemed unable to understand what I was saying, and I couldn’t understand what she said in reply.

My mother and I sat on either side of her while one of the workers played guitar and sang.  We occasionally tried to engage her in conversation, but her head would droop down toward her chest and her eyes would close in sleep.

Then Nathan, a young, attractive, care giver, walked by.  He cocked his head to one side, smiled, and waved at Mumsy.  She smiled right back and lifted her hand in greeting.  I, on seeing she had awoken, asked Mumsy if she was enjoying the music.  Her head dropped down toward her chest.  Her eyes closed in sleep.  My mother and I exchanged a glance.

Twenty minutes later, when Mumsy was still sleeping, we decided to leave and let her rest.  As we said good bye to one of the workers, I glanced back.  There was Mumsy, sitting erect in her chair, listening to the music with the hint of a smile on her face.  My 91 year old grandmother had feigned sleep to get rid of us.  

I’d have been offended except that I could see her again.  The woman who blew on the necks of strangers, who befuddled Jehovah Witnesses.  The woman who rolled down her windows, blasted classical music, and laughed out loud for all the world to hear.

Mumsy was mischievous and proud.  Generous with her time and with her money.  She was clever, well spoken and well read.   She surrounded herself with the people and things that she loved.  I count myself fortunate to have known her, and to have learned by her example that life was meant to be lived.
Living big.