Youthful Inspiration

The words that flow across the screen reveal an endless source of imagination. Mya’s fingers fly around the keyboard as she composes, intent on her work. She stops only to ask questions: “How do you spell shriek?” “What should I call the planet? How about Nimo? Wait, I think Nimeo is better.” Her eight-year-old brain is on overdrive. Her enthusiasm infectious.

Mya contemplating her story

Soon her ten-year-old brother follows suit. Opening his own Google Doc, Ben begins typing.

Ancient

Long ago there was a myth that there was a temple that was told to behold many treasures. And only one person can wield its power.

Ben writing his story

I am there to help them with their distance learning, and in their spare time I expect them to run off and play, or look for a snack. Instead, they are fixated on writing stories. Grandchildren after my own heart. I find Mya nestled on the couch before breakfast, cradling her chromebook, her face intent with concentration.

As their tales grow they are eager to share them with me. “Grammy, listen to this.” Ben reads his story out loud, always starting from the beginning, title and all. “Grammy, I’m on chapter two,” Mya chimes in. “Here’s what’s happening now.”

I am all ears. That’s what Grammys do. But it is more than that. I’ve been on this writing journey for almost nine years now. I’ve taken classes. Attended conferences. Read books. Done workshops. And worked with a writing coach. I’m still honing my craft, continually learning. And I just found a new source of tutelage.

As Mya reads aloud, and reaches the end of chapter one, she leaves me hanging. It ends with a twist. I am eager to know more, to turn the page. It is a technique that took me a long time to master.

“Oh, I learned that from reading Harry Potter,” Mya explains.

Isn’t that what we are told to do? If you want to be a good writer, then you must read, read, read. Find good authors, grow your vocabulary, notice and absorb their techniques.

Ben likes to fill his story with dialog. His characters trade quips back and forth. On the page I find rapid fire quotes with narry a “he said” then “she said” between them. Even so, I know just who said what.

Not only did I shy away from dialog in my early work, but once I began to dabble in it, I insisted on attributing each line to its owner. An editor broke me of that habit, but I’m still working on it. Somehow, Ben got it from the get-go.

Mya’s story abounds in mystical creatures with fantastic names. She talks out loud as she types, speaking her creativity, trying out the sounds on her tongue.

… a girl named Rayla Minnesota lives on the edge of the city. She has a pet called Moono. Moono is a Bisha. A Bisha looks like a lion, except Bishas are blue with white diamonds. Moono was so big that Rayla is able to ride him! Monshias are wolves but they have wings and come in many different colors. People say they roam the sky at night. Monshias are rare.

I am in awe. My genre is memoir and creative non-fiction. I have yet to dabble in fiction. I shy away from the imagination it requires. But Mya dives in with abandon in “The Wings of Galaxy.”

Once upon a time, there was a world named Nimeo. Nimeo is a bit bigger than a faraway planet called Earth. Nimeo has two blue suns and two moons. Even though Nimeo has two suns, it usually is dark. The planet’s oceans are purple, and like Earth, the land is green. The suns are far from Nimeo, but since the blue suns give off so much heat, Nimeo has enough warmth that the people can live.

She decides that in the world she is creating that characters take state names for their surnames, and cities are named for our planets. Where does she come up with this stuff? I have a hard enough time finding substitute names for my real-life characters whose identity I want to protect.

Ben’s story features James and Louis, two miscreant school boys. How do I know that?

When James and Louis got back into the classroom they picked their chairs in the back as they always do.

After school, they boys meet at an abandoned outpost. James proposes returning home to get something, leaving Louis there on his own. Louis delivers his response: “Leaving me at a spooky outpost for an hour, uh he he sure.” Louis said, quivering. Ben doesn’t say Louis is scared. He doesn’t call the boys mischievous. He shows me. Did someone teach him that? I certainly had to be taught.

Louis sat looking at the beautiful sleek white furred creature. It had a long glimmering tail, and two turquoise eyes. “Wait a minute, I know what kind you are, you’re an ancient wolf!” “Oh, I forgot, you glow in the dark, just realized that because you’re glowing right now.”

I recently attended a webinar about developing characters. I was told that because I know my mother so well, I unwittingly assume my readers can picture her, understand her background and recognize her habits. It made me realize I need to bring her – and all my characters – to life for them. Ben didn’t need any encouragement to breathe life into his ancient wolf. I can see it vividly!

I can’t begin to approach the depth of their imagination, their thirst for fantasy. I have to admire their desire to invoke it in their writing. I’m thrilled to see their passion funneled into words and stories at such a young age. And with apparent effortlessness.

As the week progresses, the kids make rapid progress on their stories. My own writing languishes as I lavish attention on them instead. As a Grammy should. But my enthusiasm for the craft is renewed and I return home eager to follow Ben and Mya’s examples. I attack my book once more, intent on my story, working with youthful inspiration.

Molly writing

Grammy Jammies by the Dozen

The annual tradition starts soon after Labor Day. I hunt down yards and yards of cheery Christmas fleece and commence sewing Grammy Jammies. What started with one set of jammies has blossomed to 12 pair and counting.

Grammy Jammies 2020 on couch

I have six grandchildren and they get one pair each. They know the drill by now. I try to finish them by Thanksgiving so that they can wear them for the season leading up to Christmas (and beyond, of course). Each is wrapped in a cloth bag, and as soon as I bring out the stack, I hear “I know what’s in there!”

Isabel and Michael opening Jammies
Kennedy kids with Grammy in Jammies
Maren and Crosby in Grammy Jammies

But that is no longer enough. It started with Ben’s Bear, who he claimed was cold. That led to jammies for Mya’s Puppy, Isabel’s Bunny, and Michael’s Puppy. Each year now, they too get new Grammy Jammies.

Kennedy friends in Jammies

Maren and Crosby didn’t have jammie-friendly friends, so that had to be rectified. They each have a room with a woodland theme – foxes for Maren, deer for Crosby. Favoring the soft and cuddly JellyCat animals, I hunted down one of each. And now they get Grammy Jammies too. (And a seamstress secret – JellyCats all have the same body shape. One size jammies fits all, with modifications for tails!)

Fox and Deer in Jammies

Over time, I’ve gotten to know these little friends pretty well. Through multiple measurements, try-on sessions, alterations and fittings. We’ve had some good times together. But I didn’t realize how attached one in particular had become.

As Karen and family departed after Christmas I waved from the deck until they were out of sight. It was only half an hour later that I discovered that Bunny had defected. She had jumped out of Isabel’s arms on the way to the van and hidden on the walkway by the garage as they drove away. Bunny was ours for the weekend, until the post office would re-open Monday morning.

I texted a picture of Bunny to Isabel, to reassure her that Bunny would be in good hands.

Bunny stayed behind

But that was only the beginning of Bunny’s adventures. Bunny accompanied us every where we went for the next two days. She joined us for dinner and watched our favorite TV series before I tucked her into bed. Bunny went birding with Rich in the morning and attended virtual church with us. She even helped me with the laundry.

Bunny's adventures

I’m going to miss the little gal when we send her home to Isabel. She’s getting a First Class passage through the mail. With tracking. After all, she’s still wearing her new Grammy Jammies.

Sewing up the Pandemic

I had a reliable source, and the news was alarming.  I heard that Bunny and Giraffie were trying to share the same set of slipper jammies.  And it wasn’t going well.

It started with making Grammy Jammies for my grandchildren each Christmas, their numbers now climbing to six.  My oldest grandson, Ben, talked me into making jammies for his Bear.  And it took off from there.  Next was Mya’s Puppy.  Last Christmas Isabel’s Bunny joined the jammie parade, and Maren’s baby doll.

Grandkids in Grammy JammiesPuppy Bunny Bear in Grammy Jammies

“Jammies for Giraffie might be a good birthday present for Isabel,” my daughter advised.  But what better project to tackle during my coronavirus sheltering time?  The key was that both “friends” were JellyCat animals and shared the same shape – soft pear-shaped bodies, scrawny arms and big fluffy feet.  It took several tries to get it right for Bunny, but I finally perfected the pattern.  After 10 years of making slipper jammies, I had bags full of fleece scraps and I even scrounged up a few unused zippers.  I was in business.

With extra time on my hands, it felt good to pull out my sewing machine, thread it up and make something from nothing.  Sewing opens so many creative opportunities – designing the garment, choosing the fabric, picking coordinating ribbing, placing the print on each pattern piece.  As my machine hummed, so did I.

Giraffie in jammies

My thoughts turned to the book I recently finished reading.  I picked up The Murmur of Bees quite by accident in the early days of the invasion of COVID-19.  When the spread of the virus was still news, I was surprised and fascinated to find that the book was set in Mexico in 1918, in the heart of the devastation wrought by the Spanish flu.  It was history I did not know well, but it had an eerily familiar strain.

The family in the book fled from their home near town and relocated to another hacienda further away, where they rode out the worst of the pandemic. Mom couldn’t settle herself, and it was her young son who figured out why she was so distraught.  He convinced his dad to return to their home, pack up her sewing machine, material and tools and bring them to her.  She was puzzled and angry at their curious actions.  Until she threaded her machine and began sewing.  With each garment she sewed, a sliver of peace was restored.  She was grounded at last, in the productive and creative endeavor of sewing.

I felt the same way.  When Giraffie’s jammies were done, I needed another project.  I decided little brother Michael needed a stuffed animal friend.  Obsessed with the idea, I scoured the internet for a free pattern for a fleece animal.  More scraps to cut up, excess stuffing that needed a home, and a load of fun later I had a soft little puppy for Michael.  It was such a hit, that I couldn’t stop there.  Five grandchildren later, I had a whole litter of pups and kitties!

Stuffed puppies Stuffed puppies and kitties

There’s something inherently rewarding about using only what I have on hand.  Taking bits and pieces and ending up with a little critter that will delight a child.  There are many ways this pandemic has forced us to simplify life.  To do without.  To make do with what we have and forego what now feels like frivolous shopping.

Sewing returns me to my roots.  My mom taught me to sew long before I took Home Ec classes in junior high.  She made all my clothes until I took over, then sewed for my own children.  By now when I sit down in front of my machine, innate skills take over.  My hands know how to guide the fabric, my eyes gauge the seam, my foot regulates the speed. I reap the rewards of familiarity, of falling back on something soothing and rewarding.  I feel Mom’s presence as I follow in her footsteps.  I imagine she too would sew her way through this pandemic.

I hear that Bunny and Giraffie are friends again.  And my daughter’s whispers, “Michael has taken to a Jellycat puppy recently.”  I can already hear the whir of my sewing machine.

Isabel with Bunny and Giraffie

Grammy, would you please?

Beware of brainstorms.  It seemed like a fun idea at the time.  Little did I know where it would lead.

Grammy with kids in slipper jammies

After my annual sewing spree making slipper jammies for my four grandchildren last Christmas, I decided to make a matching pair for Isabel’s baby doll.  With a little ingenuity, I was able to create a miniature version which delighted little Isabel.  End of story.  Or so I thought.Isabel and Baby in jammies“Grammy, Bear is really cold.”  This was Ben, Isabel’s older brother.  “He has to stay under the covers in my bed all the time.  Do you think you could make some slipper jammies for him?”

How could I refuse?  I have to admit, my heart soared.  Here was something I – and probably only I – could do for Ben.  And for Bear.  “Of course!” was the only answer.  Complete with a ribbed collar and tail-hole, Bear was soon warm and cozy.

Ben with Bear in jammies

By that time, I knew it would not end there.  I had already bought another zipper.  “Grammy, what about Kitty?  Could he have slipper jammies?”  Big sister Mya.  I was unfazed but after several hours of wrangling with tracing paper and pins, Kitty proved to exceed my design capabilities.

“Mya, we have to talk.”  This was serious face-to-face conversation.  “Kitty isn’t so sure about slipper jammies.  I tried really hard, but she asked me if I could make them for Puppy instead.”  Uncertainty crossed her face, but to my relief she agreed.  “I think Puppy needs four slipper feet, don’t you?” I suggested.  “Oh yes!”  I was saved.

Mya with Puppy in jammiesAt eight weeks old, I doubt Michael has expectations just yet.  But if cousin Maren gets wind of these developments, I see another creative slipper jammy session in my future.

Which all leads to the next logical question.  Will they expect new matching slipper jammies for their friends next Christmas, just like theirs?  I’ve saved the patterns just in case…

Move over Laptop

Sewing slipper jammiesSometimes the writer has to take a backseat to being a Grammy.  My office space allotment has ample room for my laptop and was designed with plenty of surface area for spreading out notes and research materials.  It just does not accommodate a sewing machine and yards of material without a bit of compromise.  So when my inner Grammy takes over, the laptop gets shoved aside.

It’s well known in this space that I have an annual appointment with the sewing machine and piles of fuzzy fleece.  What started as a single pair of slipper jammies, also known as Grammy jammies, has multiplied into four such outfits fitting little bodies from 10 months to 7 years.  And next year already promises to push the total to five.  No matter what the number, I press on and rue the day when the older grandchildren start opting out of such cozy comforts.

It feels a bit like an assembly line.  Cut, cut, cut.  Sew, sew, sew.  A zipper here, a cuff there.  Gripper feet for all.  The outside world hardly exists.  All I see is red fleece, goofy reindeer faces and a needle bouncing up and down in rapid motion.  I cannot rest until the last piece is in place.  The final stitch sewn.  It is a labor of love.  When I am finished, they come to life – four little visitors inhabiting my couch.I am lucky this year.  I found Christmas fleece, which has become a rare commodity.  That means an early delivery so that the kiddos can wear them for the run up to the holiday season.  When I produced the customary cloth gift bags last weekend, the older ones already knew what must be inside.  Kids sure learn fast.Ben, Mya and Isabel in their Grammy Jammies

I had to entrust the final pair to the US Mail.  Through the marvels of FaceTime I was able to watch Maren rip through the packaging to reveal her very own Grammy jammies.  A style show ensued.Maren models Grammy Jammies

My task complete for now, the laptop has been restored to its place of honor.  With this little interlude behind me, my writing resumes.  Bits of fuzz and pins linger in my workspace.  I smile, looking forward to Christmas when all four grandchildren will pile into our house – in their matching togs.

The Quiet House

It happens every time.  The house feels waaaay too quiet.  I hear the ticking of the clock.  The hum of the washing machine oozes in from the laundry room.  My heart feels full yet empty.  I have just waved goodbye to the kids and grandkids.

Mya packed for DuluthThis time it was quite a blitz.  For starters, it was 5-year-old Mya’s turn for “Grammy Camp” and she spent four days with us in Duluth.  There is something very special about having grandchildren here on their own.  It invites getting to know them better.  It means they get my complete attention, without competition from siblings or parents.  It encourages doing fun activities together.  Mya’s visit was no exception.

Some things we repeated from big brother Ben’s visit.  A trip around the harbor on the Vista Star was a highlight, and Mya was especially taken with the whole cruise aspect.  “When will we go faster?” was her favorite question.  Mya and Rich on Vista StarMya and friends at the parkMya’s social side came out, and she quickly made friends wherever we went  Arriving in the driveway, she immediately asked to go play with the girls next door.  A trip to the playground quickly morphed into a game of hide and seek.  And a play date with my friend and her grandkids at Playfront Park was a big hit.

My favorite times were snuggling up to read, Mya pressed into my side eager to hear the same books night after night.  Kids all grow out of that stage eventually, but I never do.

Mya was joined by the rest of her family for an overnight stay at the end of the week.  The noise level increased more than three-fold with the addition of her two siblings, and the inevitable rivalries quickly resumed.  We packed in as much time outdoors as we could and even managed to see the steam train before they headed off to the cabin.

Molly and MarenIt was a quick changeover, then we welcomed Carl and Chelsea with baby Maren for the weekend.  In comparison to three active youngsters, Maren’s happy chirping and babbling were mere background sounds.  We easily slipped into the schedule of a 5-month-old which naturally afforded plenty of downtime – welcomed by her parents and this Grammy after my recent camp gig.  Playing with Maren on her quilt was plenty of entertainment.

Still very portable, we took Maren on several hikes and to the Park Point Art Fair.  As we crossed the Aerial Bridge, bells began clanging, the gate went down and we discovered we were the second to last car to get across.  Quickly ditching the car, we scurried to the canal to watch a classic ore boat come through the bridge – a first for not only Maren but Chelsea as well!  There is no Duluth experience better than being up close to a passing ore boat.Carl Chelsea and Maren at the bridge

By now, these are all memories.  The house is our own again.  It’s a grandparent’s prerogative to enjoy the young ones, spoil them, love them to bits then send them home with their parents.  But the echoes of laughter, squabbles, babble and imaginative play still linger in these rooms, leaving this house much too quiet.

The Grammy Gift

Carl and Chelsea with Maren

The request was for help, but the gift was all mine. Seeking to extend the time before they sent their first born to day care, my son Carl and his wife Chelsea asked if I would be interested in watching her for a week or more. I will admit to hesitating. How would I feel in a city where I knew no one, cooped up with a baby all day? Fortunately, I put my selfish reservations aside and agreed to a week.

At three months old, baby Maren was a compact bundle of smiles. Still small enough to be held and carried with ease yet old enough to have developed a personality, she captured my heart immediately. She still slept a lot, but when awake she had a lot to say and took in all that was going on around her. I melted each time she looked right at me and smiled or “talked” to me.

Smiling Maren

Settling in with Carl and Chelsea for that week reinforced what it means to be a Grammy. Freed of all responsibilities save caring for Maren, I had the luxury of embracing that single focus. No job to juggle, no parenting anguish, no chores to do, no outside commitments to meet. Just love, cuddle, play, feed and change. And it easily filled each day. I went to bed each night looking forward to more. That experience is one we just can't have as parents.

Molly and Maren

There is a lot to be said for having extended solo time with a grandchild. Each day was ours to navigate together. There was a certain ease in managing on our own. And I only had to share with Grandpa. For the most part Maren was all mine for the day.

Did I feel cooped up? Hardly. Maren was all the entertainment I needed. Besides, we went out for a walk with the stroller almost every day. We walked to Brueggers for bagels, a tradition harking back to my own kids. We visited a park and hiked its trails.

It's not like this is my first grandchild. I've had plenty of practice with my daughter Karen's three children. But I never had this total immersion before. Now I wonder why. Now I know better.

,Grammy with 4 grandkids

I've already signed up to watch the next one. It's the Grammy gift that gives so much more in return.

 

Grammy Jammies times 4

The tradition was reborn six years ago. Just as I made matching pajamas for my own children each year for Christmas, I began sewing slipper jammies for my first grandchild. As each new addition enters the fold, I increase production. The top sizes grow larger each year, and I wonder how long the oldest will still want to wear footie jammies. But I’m tickled that at age 6 1/2, my Grammy jammies are still popular.

Grammy with Kennedy grandkidsAs I commenced sewing for this seventh round, a new grandchild was on the way. Soon a cousin would join the three siblings. It seemed unlikely that the baby would arrive by Christmas, but it would be a shame to exclude her from the tradition merely for making an early entrance. Hence the first Grammy bunting was delivered.
Grammy JammiesAlthough even this newborn size swamps little Maren it feels good to see her initiated into the tradition. And should she grow quickly, I eked out one more set with proper footies for her in a 3 month size.
Grammy and Maren in buntingBy now I know this sewing pattern really well and have it in every possible size. I’ll be making my Grammy jammies as long as the babies keep coming. If the current trend continues, that will keep me busy for quite a while.

Precious New Life

There is nothing like a newborn baby. Especially when it is the first. Being grandparents affords us the unique joy of being part of this special experience multiple times. And it never grows old.

As we await the impending arrival, we are as anxious as the new parents – almost.  When the due date comes and goes, we awake each morning and note, “Well, no phone call yet.”  Ironically, when the text does come in the middle of the night to inform us that the baby is on its way, we sleep right through it.

Photo-20170119161608594.jpgHow quickly I forget how tiny and vulnerable these little beings are. I meet little Maren when she is only four days old. Small enough to fit in the crook of my arm, she favors scrunching up into a little ball as if still in the womb. She wraps her long thin fingers around my own and opens her mouth in bird like fashion. Occasionally I see her piercing dark eyes.photo-jan-16-3-51-05-pm

 

 

It is only moments before she dominates my life. For the full duration of our visit, my world revolves around her. Priorities rearrange themselves without thought, as I savor these limited days. Drinking in that new baby smell, feeling her cuddly warmth in my arms, amused at her repertoire of comical facial expressions, there is no need for outside entertainment. I am easily reminded of those early days with my own children. In that hospital room following their birth, the outside world did not exist. News and current events were unimportant.

My grandma role also gives me the joy of seeing my children grow into parents themselves. In this case, it is our son Carl and his wife Chelsea who are learning the joys and challenges of raising an infant. What is different this time around is that they live seven hours away by car. Seeing the new family is not a casual visit. It involves moving in for several days. The beauty is in the total immersion I am granted, the intimacy of joining in this new lifestyle that is emerging for them. The graceful way that they warmly welcome me into these early days is as heartwarming as the baby herself. Her arrival has already enriched our relationship. This is a precious new life indeed.

Grammy Camp

It was Karen who reminded me.  She has vivid and fond memories of the times Rich and I would leave her and her two bothers with their grandparents in Duluth while we continued up to the Boundary Waters for some alone time canoeing.  That much I remembered.  But I didn’t recall that she referred to it as “Grandma and Grandpa Camp.”  The name alone conjures up visions of kids having a great time, sans parents, doing all sorts of special things with their grandparents.

For some time now, I’ve been eager to bring my own grandkids to Duluth for a visit.  But I had to be patient.  Last time I gently asked if they would like to come, the answer was a swift and firm “No.”  Even from the feisty middle child who I thought might be game.  I had to bide my time until they were old enough to relish the experience.

I also had another stipulation.  I wanted them one at a time.  I craved having one-on-one time with each of them, where I could have their undivided attention and they could monopolize mine.

At last the day finally arrived.  Ben had an extra week of Christmas break when his parents and siblings were back at work and day care.  It seemed the perfect opportunity to try again.  Emboldened by attending Kindergarten, Ben was actually excited about the idea of spending three days with us.

I knew we were off to a good start when I went drove down to pick him up and he practically jumped into my arms shouting “Grammy!”  The next morning he arose before six, eager to add his blanket and stuffed animals to his backpack.  The fun started almost immediately when we stopped at Caribou for coffee and I bought him a hot chocolate for the ride.  This was going to be a true Grammy visit.

My instincts were dead on.  We had the most delightful three days together.  Everything we did took on the aura of being special.  He relished all the attention, and so did I.  The normal tendencies of sibling rivalry, the temptation to push the limits of discipline and finicky eating evaporated.  Homesickness never materialized.

The only downside to the visit was that Rich, aka Grandpa, was out of commission with a sprained back.  He was unable to participate in any of our antics, but observed it all from his painful perch on the couch.  But I was in my element, and carried on.

Ben in the train engineBen loved the Train Museum, particularly the huge snow plow train and the tall steam engine.  He overcame his initial fear of the giant trains and soon climbed inside to sit in the engineer’s seat.  I took him to Marshall Hardware, where they have a couple of aisles stocked with modest but time tested toys and let him choose one to bring home.  A blue steam engine was his proud pick.

Bens PizzaWe had just as much fun at home, playing, cooking and crafting together.  My inner child was reborn as I spent hours building with Lincoln Logs, making Lego creations and connecting miles of Brio train track.  Ben was in seventh heaven making his own pizza for dinner, using pepperoni to create a face.  Making it turned out to be far more interesting than actually eating it, but it was totally worth it for the joy it delivered.

The best were the moments of silliness.  Scooping ice cream was an absolute necessity after dinner each night.  That much he inherited from me.

Grammy and Ben being sillyMy favorite craft was making cookie cutter ice ornaments.  Inspired by Outside in Duluth, we filled a pan with water, cookie cutters and twine hangers.  In the frigid temperatures, it all froze quickly and soon we were hanging beautiful icy shapes on the outdoor tree covered in lights.  Those ornaments will serve as a tender reminder of Ben’s visit until they melt – which doesn’t look to be any time soon.

Ice heart ornamentchristmas-ornaments-ben-molly-2-trimmed

It was well worth the wait, for the time to be right and the visit to be a success.  And since sister, Mya, is now begging for her turn I know I will get to do this again soon.  Grammy Camp has been firmly established.