Nurturing the Next Great Generation

Tag: Grandfathers

Dear 26-Year-Old Us

Last week my wife was cleaning out an old cabinet and came across a photo taken of us on our honeymoon in London in 1985. I’d always liked this picture…

Last week my wife was cleaning out an old cabinet and came across a photo taken of us on our honeymoon in London in 1985. I’d always liked this picture and thought it had been lost, so seeing it again was a bit like finding ourselves the way we were back then. But not so long ago, really, in terms of years.

The span of time is more accurately measured in the changes we’ve been through; raising two children and all the blurred rush that entailed; and most recently, the addition of 4 gregarious and beautiful grandchildren. It wasn’t always easy getting to the present. This made me wish I could reach out to the two of us as we were at 26 and offer some sage advice.

So, here is my letter to the younger us:

Dear Ted and Nancy…

First off, I’d have to say the two of you look great. Nancy, the combination of the long wavy hair and lovely features makes you stunning. Ted, I know that you are insecure about your looks and have never felt 100% comfortable in your skin. Stop worrying.

I want you both to know that you are just at the very beginning of an amazing journey together. It’s going to happen very quickly. Nancy, you may already be pregnant, and a little girl named Abigail will join us in 9 months. And within three years we will have a son, Nicholas, who will complete the picture.

Your early years as a family will sometimes be rocky to say the least.

There will a lot of juggling of work and daycare, which will be made harder by the fact that both your kids will be sick A LOT. Not life-threatening sick, but one cold or stomach bug after the other. You will argue about which of you will stay home to care for the kids when they have a fever. You will strike bargains with each other (like, I’ll stay home today if you let me sleep late on Saturday). You will work it out time and again, and the kids will grow up to be well-balanced and charming people.

When times are tough, and when they are great, try to pause and take stock of where you are and the extraordinary gifts before you. All of it will go by so fast that when you’re older you’ll shake your head in wonder.

I’d love to go back to one of those bad days and give you a hug.

I’d tell you that it’s all going to be ok. That’s not some platitude; it’s the truth.

I wish I could help you pause time once in a while. After you’ve read to the kids in bed and they at last fall asleep, don’t rush out of the room. Take a moment to look at your slumbering Abigail and Nicholas. Experience deeply the sense of peace. Listen to the sound of their breath. Realize that these seconds are incredibly precious and transitory. Someday—despite all the vomit you have to clean up on a regular basis, the tears to soothe, and all the other troubles—you will wish you could be right back here in this moment.

Here’s some advice about your relationship.

It would be nice if you had more regular dates. Find a sitter and go out to dinner at least twice a month. You don’t have to go to a gourmet restaurant. Maybe just have coffee. Take a few minutes to talk. You’ll be the best possible parents if you nurture your relationship to the fullest.

When the kids leave for college and you are alone in your newly empty nest, it’s ok to feel very sad.

Go ahead and bawl your eyes out. So much of your purpose has been centered on raising your girl and boy. The fact that they are now grown up and strong is a sign you did a great job.

This may shock you, but it actually won’t be very long before your kids have kids. Honestly, it will feel like you blinked and suddenly there will be a bunch of grandchildren to hug and read to and make cookies with.The empty nest will be full again before you know it.

Lastly, I’d suggest you extend your honeymoon by at least a few weeks.

Drive not only through the British midlands and Wales, but also to Scotland. Go to the northernmost castle on the coast and feel the wind in your hair (especially you, Ted, because you’re going to lose it by your 40s). A wonderfully rich and busy life with children and grandchildren is before you, but there’s no need to rush ahead. Not today. Slow down and enjoy the view, and each other.

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The Mouse Autopsy: How Grandparents Can Nurture the Next Great Generation.

What do we learn from our grandfathers and how do we learn it? This question has been on my mind a lot lately. While my four grandchildren swirl and dash…

What do we learn from our grandfathers and how do we learn it? This question has been on my mind a lot lately. While my four grandchildren swirl and dash around me on these warm summer days by the lake, I know these times together are fleeting. What will I remember of this when I’m older, and what will they remember as adults?

While remembering and sharing stories has become easier thanks to the Internet, it’s still a challenge to create genuinely memorable and wisdom-rich experiences. This is something I’m working on (I know I have a lot to learn). My dad, however, was a born master at creating unforgettable experiences that helped shape my children to become the wonderful people they are today.

I invite you to come back with me to a summer day in 1999.

My wife and I were up at my parents’ house in Northern Vermont with our son and daughter. The house, which dad designed, has 9-foot tall windows overlooking the mountains. Nature is everywhere – and there is a lot of it. This neck of the woods is chock full of every variety of critter, and quite a few of them make it their business to get into the house.

Mice were the bane of my mother’s existence. Mom was a big, tall woman who loved watching Julia Child and cooking up feasts for me and my four older brothers. The sheer volume of food cooked and consumed in the house probably attracted the mice to have their own boisterous family gatherings. Mouse traps and poison were the preferred methods of extermination, yet neither worked well enough to rid the place of scurrying vermin. So when a mouse did meet its end, mom was jubilant. “Got one!” she’d exclaim.

On the day of this story, mom had sent two mice to meet their maker. “Got two!” she said, pointing with two fingers.

My dad, an MIT-educated chemical engineer, had a lifelong fascination with science. At the urging of one of his professors he learned the habit of always asking ‘why?’ So much so that when I was growing up, the word WHY! (always all caps with exclamation point) was taped to every mirror in the house.

Well, dad wanted to know why the two mice had died, but instead of asking mom he enlisted my children to conduct a science experiment. Dad explained to my wide-eyed offspring (13 and 10) that they would perform an autopsy on the mice to ascertain the cause of death. Necks broken in a trap? Poison? Something else?

Dad brought the kids out to the driveway, our de facto laboratory.

There, before my astonished and delighted children, dad stapled the mice to a big board, arms and legs splayed out and belly up. He handed my kids scalpels and told them where to cut. I looked on from a distance, chuckling and shaking my head. In hindsight the scene was like some kind of CSI Vermont episode.

In short order, both mouse stomachs were revealed to be chock full of little pink pellets of mouse poison. This was a real ‘aha’ moment for my kids. While it was just two mice, the forensic process was truly scientific in nature. My kids learned that being curious is the first vital step in discovery. In time, and with enough effort, all the secrets of the world could be revealed.

The lesson stuck.

Many years later, when my daughter spoke at my dad’s memorial service, she credited the mouse autopsy as a key experience that sparked her interest in science, and ultimately inspired her to get her Masters (speech pathology). Every child she teaches is living a more rewarding and capable life because of my daughter’s scientific viewpoint, the demand to ask WHY!, the insatiable hunger to know.

What are experiences you had with your grandparents that stuck with you, and why? What experiences are you creating now? Please share your ideas here so we can learn from each other.

My dad, William (Bill) Page, and the word he sought to teach his children and grandchildren.

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Moving Boulders in the Brook

Author’s note:  This summer as I rejoin my family at Willoughby Farm in Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom I’m reminded of my grandfather. Often when I walk down to the shore and…

Author’s note:  This summer as I rejoin my family at Willoughby Farm in Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom I’m reminded of my grandfather. Often when I walk down to the shore and hear the rustling brook that runs through the farm to the lake I’m brought back to a sunny day many years ago when I was helping Gramp with a chore that taught me valuable lessons. Here’s a story excerpted from my book, The Willoughby Chronicles.

I’m lying on the beach reading a Hardy Boys book and Chet’s in the middle of a speedboat race. The sun on my back feels great. I’m not quite hot enough to jump in the lake, but I’m getting there.

“Teddy!” It’s Gramp. Oh, shit, I think, he’s found me. I’m 12 and under his employ this summer to help take care of the family’s rental cottages and land by the shores of Willoughby Lake. When I’m needed, I have to help. That’s it. And there’s no point trying to complain with Gramp. A biplane pilot in the First World War, he flew reconnaissance missions to photograph the enemy lines. In the Second World War, by then a full colonel, he helped Eisenhower prepare the Allies for the invasion of Normandy, checking supplies, stocking warehouses, and generally making sure all the i’s were dotted and t’s crossed.

This is a man who knows how to get the job done.

He’s used to having his orders followed. Even now, bent with 70 years of living, Gramp’s presence is commanding. He’s tall, with a prominent nose and sharp eyes shaded by his long-brimmed khaki cap.

“Yes, Gramp?” I say.

“Teddy, there you are. I need your help in the brook.”

Gramp is leaning his weight against a thick steel crowbar longer than he is. I can’t imagine what could be wrong with the brook, but all I can manage to say is, “Sure, Gramp.” I put on an old pair of sneakers and follow him.

The brook is always cold, even on the hottest days of August. Cedar and birch trees lean over the banks and shade the clear water and the tumble of rocks. Some rocks are thick with a cushy green moss, some are polished by the current. On either side of the brook, tucked beneath tall pines, my grandparents have built barn-red cottages with fieldstone fireplaces and views of the lake—rental cottages that have to be cleaned each week in preparation for a new crop of summer tenants. Today, Gramp stands on the bank of the brook and hands the long steel bar down to me. I’m up to my ankles in the freezing water, still wondering what on earth Gramp is up to. He peers down into the water, one hand behind his back. “Now Teddy,” he says, “all we have to do is move that rock over to there.”

“This one?” I ask, pointing the heavy crowbar at a boulder that must be 400 pounds.

“Yes, move it over to there.”

“Why?”

He doesn’t answer. My grandfather must be getting senile; that’s the only explanation. But senile or not, I better do as he says. So I try to lift up one edge of the boulder with my bare hands. It’s like trying to budge a mountain.

“No, no,” Gramp says testily, “use the bar. Get under it.”

I use the bar as a lever, and with much gasping and grunting I move the rock about four inches.

“That’s it, you’re getting it. Keep at it, Teddy, keep at it.”

I grunt more, I push, I heave. Sweat covers every inch of my body except my ankles, which are soaking in ice water. After a half hour or so I manage to shimmy the boulder over to the side of the bank. Finally, I can get back to my book, or maybe take a swim.

“That’s just dandy,” Gramp says. “Wonderful. Just dandy. We’re almost done. Now all we have to do is move that rock there, yes—no, that one right there—yes, we have to move that rock over to there.”

The rock he’s pointing at looks like something out of Stonehenge.

I stare at it for a second, imagining Druids performing ceremonies at its base. My protest is breathy and worthless. “That’s an awfully big rock, Gramp.”

“You can do it,” Gramp says. “Just move it over to there and we’ll be almost done.”

It’s always this way with Gramp, I realize—no matter where you are with a job, even if you’ve just started, you’re almost done. It’s a mental trick you can pull on yourself. But I am not done. I have to move this boulder, and that one, and that one, and that one, and this one, and that one, and my hands are soggy and raw from hauling at the rough, wet rocks; my toes are banged up and spongy; I’m an exhausted, sweaty, mindless mess, and all I have to do is move this other rock over to there, and that will be just dandy and we’ll be almost done.

At long last, after seven hours in the brook, Gramp looks me in the eye and says, “Teddy, there’s no substitute for hard work.”

I smile and look down into the shady water. The current is swift and straight right through the center of the brook. And the banks are lined with sturdy boulders that will prevent erosion of the valuable land. This year the spring floods will do no harm. Gramp adjusts his cap and walks off with the crowbar. “Just dandy,” he says. “Wonderful. We’re all done.”

What are lessons you learned from your grandparents? Please post a comment below with a lesson or two so we can learn from each other and help nurture the next great generation.

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Henry and Charlie’s Thrilling Moon Cat Adventure

Author’s note: When I was a boy my father took great delight in telling me stories at bedtime. Sometimes they were his old favorites, like Winnie the Pooh or The…

Author’s note:

When I was a boy my father took great delight in telling me stories at bedtime. Sometimes they were his old favorites, like Winnie the Pooh or The Wind in the Willows. But many nights dad would make up his own stories on the spot. His extemporaneous tales were wildly imaginative and each was very different, but all of them involved two main characters—ghosts named Casper and Jasper—along with me and my four older brothers. I lay in rapt attention as each story unfolded, delighting to hear new stories where I and my brothers had roles to play.

Unfortunately none of these stories was ever written down. That was part of their magic, I suppose. They were like unique flakes of snow that spun magically and melted on my mind, never to be seen the same way again. I don’t remember what happened in the stories, but I do recall loving them. And loving the time I got to spend with my father, a man who was always busy with a million projects.

Now, with three grandchildren and one more on the way in February, I’m following in dad’s footsteps. When my own kids where little I made up stories, and did write some of them down (they’re probably in a box in the basement somewhere). But today with the grandkids I have a chance to make my stories more evergreen, and share them with your family as well.

Here, then, is one such story. My two main characters are Henry and Charlie. To me, they are my handsome, smart and fast-growing grandsons. To everyone else they may be simply characters, but I hope that they are as real for you as they are for me.

Enjoy,

Grandpa Ted

It was a day like a lot of other days in Oakdale, Connecticut.

People drove around and bought groceries or shoes. They had Zoom meetings in the basement laundry room, ate macaroni for lunch in front of the TV and had naps or played video games. Henry and Charlie, however, were not going to have a regular day. Why?

Well, I just don’t know where to begin. So I’ll start at the beginning.

Henry, age 6, and Charlie, two years younger, woke up early and went downstairs to play. Pretty soon mom, otherwise known as Abigail, came down and asked if they would like to have one of two things for breakfast. Option 1 was blueberry pancakes. Option 2 was a new kind of breakfast burrito made with BongoBongo beans, grown only in the heart of the great Amazon forest in Brazil where the trees grow very tall.

The boys were tempted by the idea of pancakes, but they’d JUST had them the day before and today they felt like something different.

So they asked for the special Breakfast burrito with the Brazilian BongoBongo beans.

Mom said, “Coming right up!” And within minutes, Charlie and Henry were chowing down on their BongoBongo bean breakfast burritos like dogs who hadn’t eaten in months. They made so much noise eating that their next-door neighbors, Claire and Carl Loosebowel, came over and complained. The Loosebowels were short with wiry black hair, and tended to run everywhere they went.

Charlie looked closely at one of the BongoBongo beans. It was bright yellow and as big as a grape but longer. And it tasted like a combination of chicken and marshmallows.

After they finished devouring their BongoBongo bean burritos (more quietly so as not to disturb Claire and Carl Loosebowel) they went outside to play in the snow.

It had snowed about two feet earlier in the week, and Henry and Charlie had built a big snow fort which they named The Kingdom of Wow.

Well, on this day—which, as I’ve said, was definitely not a regular day—the boys discovered their Kingdom of Wow was for some strange reason way too small to get into. The snow fort had apparently shrunk overnight to about half the size it had been. Disappointed, the boys went inside to tell mom. But just as they were walking into the living room both Charlie and Henry bonked their heads on the ceiling.

Mom looked up at them and her jaw dropped in wonder.

Henry said, “Hey, the Kingdom of Wow shrank. We can’t get in! And why is the ceiling so low in here?”

Mom said, “Oh my. You are so much bigger than you were when you woke up. How is that possible?”

Henry said, “What?” But when he looked at the family dog, Rory, he knew it was true because Rory was now the size of a tiny toy poodle.

Charlie was about to say, “We can’t be getting big that fast, can we?” Even as he was saying this he saw the room shrink before his eyes and felt the top of his head pressing harder up against the ceiling.

“Goodness,” mom said, “You better go outside!”

They ducked under the front door and as soon as they were outside the trees lining the road seemed to shrink down to little shrubs. A sparrow flew by and landed on Henry’s shoulder. Farther and farther down below cars drove through the neighborhood like tiny Matchbox race cars. Charlie looked up at a cloud and before he could say “what the…” his head was in the cloud.

Henry and Charlie’s dad, Ryan, came out on the lawn and looked up at the two fast-growing giants and immediately pictured his sons with college basketball scholarships. With Henry and Charlie now taller than the house, they’d be able to get the basketball in the hoop every time.

Abigail couldn’t believe her eyes.

Henry and Charlie just kept growing and growing, way bigger than their Grandpa Ted. They were now as tall as buildings and they kept right on going. Henry heard a buzzing sound which he thought was a bug going by his right ear, but when he looked he saw that it was an airplane. People on the airplane had their faces glued to the windows as they looked out at him in wonder.

“Um, what’s going on?” Ryan asked Abigail.

A bunch of ideas ran through Abigail’s mind like frantic mice.

Then all at once she knew what had happened.

“It was the special Brazilian BongoBongo beans in the breakfast burritos!” She blurted.

“Really?” Ryan said.

“That has to be it!” Abigail said. “They must be some kind of magic bean that makes children grow!”

By the time Abigail said this, Charlie and Henry’s feet were bigger than the Subaru parked in the driveway. The boys looked at each other and laughed. “This is so cool,” Charlie said. “Yea,” replied Henry.

Just then Henry burped, sending a gust of burpy breath so strong it made a nearby helicopter fly wildly off course.

The boys kept right on growing.

And growing.

And growing.

And still they grew, higher and higher. They looked up, wondering how high they could possibly go. The sky above was no longer blue. It was increasingly dark like a cloud, yet clear at the same time, with little specs of white twinkling out of the darkness like the fireflies the boys had seen blinking in the air on cool June nights in Vermont.

That’s when they realized the lights were stars.

Suddenly just like that their heads popped through into space. They had never seen stars and planets so clear before. Especially the moon. The surface of the moon wasn’t smooth after all. It was not a round flat ball of white like they’d seen out their window at bedtime, but a place with mountains and valleys, and maybe even lakes of dark green blue water shimmering in the sun.

At this point the boys were so big they were able to reach up and grab hold of the moon, and with one big pull they managed to hoist themselves up and set foot on the moon for the first time. The ground was made of grey powdery dust. A small American flag stood a few feet away, with a few stray golf balls around it.

On the horizon the Earth looked like a little blue ball.

That’s when they heard footsteps. Not just any footsteps. GIANT footsteps, each one making a huge crashing sound.

“Hide! Quick!” Henry said. They ducked behind a mountain just in time, because the next second a humungous cat — bigger than a building, bigger than the mountain they were hiding behind, bigger than anything they’d ever seen slinked into the valley. Its fur was brown streaked with rivers of sickly mustard yellow. Its eyes gleamed white like the headlights of an oncoming truck. Its teeth were long and spiked like knives.

The cat growled,

“I’m a kitty who has no pity
Hear me purr while I eat your city
Munch and crunch
Scratch and prowl
When I’m done, you won’t look pretty.”

Charlie grabbed Henry’s arm. “Can we go home now?” he pleaded in a hushed voice so the giant cat wouldn’t hear him.

“Wait,” Henry said, “Look!” He pointed to a little thing that was following the gigantic cat. “It’s a kitten.”

Charlie said, “Oh, so cute.”

“We have to take him home with us” whispered Henry.

The question was, how could they get the kitten without the giant cat seeing them?

This was quite a puzzle. Should they scrunch down and crawl over to grab the kitty? No, the giant cat would spot them in a second. Should they catch the kitten with a net? Well, they didn’t have a net. As the huge cat sat and licked its claws, Charlie and Henry sat and thought. And they thought some more.

That’s when Charlie saw a bush next to him, and hanging from its branches were BongoBongo beans just like the ones he’d had in his Brazilian BongoBongo bean burrito that morning.

Maybe the beans weren’t from Brazil after all. Maybe they were from the moon!

Charlie picked a BongoBongo bean and munched it, savoring the chicken marshmallow flavor. And suddenly right before his eyes Henry grew. Or he thought he grew, but in reality what had happened was that Charlie had shrunk, for in his eyes Henry was now a giant.

“It’s the BongoBongo beans,” Charlie said. “They made us big at home, but on the moon they make us little.”

Henry knew in an instant that Charlie was right. “Hey,” Henry said. “If we’re little we can sneak up behind the giant cat and get the kitten without him even seeing us!”

Henry reached for a BongoBongo bean so he could get small, too, but then it dawned on him that if both he and his brother were little they wouldn’t be big enough to reach up and grab hold of the Earth to pull themselves back to Connecticut. They’d be stuck on the moon forever. The boys talked and came up with a plan B. Henry would just have to stay big, they decided, while Charlie would stay small.

“Ok,” said Henry, “I’ll go distract the big cat while you sneak in and grab the kitten. Then run as fast as you can back to this spot and I’ll get us home.”

So off they went, Henry towards the front of the big nasty cat, and Charlie towards the kitten behind.

Henry walked bravely right up to the giant cat.

“Hey, you big ugly cat!” Henry shouted up at the creature.

The cat’s head turned and as it spotted Henry before him its eyes narrowed and it bared its huge sharp teeth. A hiss like a thousand snakes poured from its mouth.

“Who dares enter the land of the moon cats!” roared the cat. “Speak, or I’ll make you my purrrrrrfect little snack.”

Henry planted his feet defiantly and held his hands behind his back. “My name,” he said confidently, “is Henry. What’s yours?”

“I have no name that you would understand, little snack child,” said the cat. “I am Lord of the Moon Cats. I lay in the warm sun. I prowl the moon night and day. I catch and eat things. I claw furniture without getting into trouble. I answer to NO ONE. Tell me your business quick.”

Henry spotted Charlie running behind the cat towards the kitten, his feet kicking up little clouds of moon dust. Henry had no idea what to tell the big ugly cat, but he knew he had to stall him to give Charlie more time.

“My business?” Henry said. “Funny you should ask. I have very important business. I have to…I mean, what I have to do here, the business is….well, you see…”

“You have five seconds!” screeched the cat, raising a paw and baring its claws.

“Well, since you asked,” said Henry, “I’ll tell you.” He saw Charlie grab the kitten and run.

“I have been sent,” Henry said, “on a mission from the planet Earth; that’s the blue dot up there,” Henry said, pointing calmly, “a mission to find the smartest cat in the universe.”

The giant cat, who had been ready to swipe Henry right off the ground and into his mouth, paused. In truth the Lord of the Moon Cats had always thought of himself as quite smart. He had, after all, out-smarted all the other moon cats in order to become Lord of All. He usually won at board games and was very good with crossword puzzles. The thought of everyone on all the planets realizing that he was in fact the smartest cat in the universe was tempting. He wanted to know more — although his tummy was starting to rumble with hunger and he was not known for patience when it came to snacking.

“Go on…” said the cat.

“Well, yes, of course,” said Henry, wishing at this point he’d never gotten anywhere near this giant beast of a kitty.

“You see, once we’ve found the absolute smartest cat, we will give it a new planet to rule, and provide it with the best cat toys to play with, plus all kinds of delicious food night and day so it will never again have to hunt for things to eat.  It will be able to lie in the warm sun and nap all day AND all night. Now, to see if you might be the smartest cat, you’ll have to take a test and….”

“I take no tests!” screeched the cat, rising up on its hind legs.

“I’m the Lord of the Moon Cats! Only I give the tests that others must pass! So I will ask YOU three questions. If you get them all right, I will be declared the absolute smartest cat in the universe!”

“Ok,” said Henry, “But you must promise not to eat me.”

The cat rolled its eyes, “Oh fine. Here’s question number one. How do you spell cat?”

Henry had just studied this at school, but he was a little nervous with the giant cat breathing on him. He thought and thought.

“Cat begins with. Um, it begins with…C!” shouted Henry.

“And then what?” the cat said, its claws drawing nearer.

“C-A-T!” Henry squeaked in a nick of time.

“A lucky guess!” said the cat, disappointed but still quite sure he’d be eating the boy soon enough. “Question two. What is five plus four?”

Henry counted on his fingers behind his back.

“Eight!” said Henry, “No, nine! Five plus four is nine!”

The cat, which had started licking its huge purple lips at the thought of chewing up Henry, hissed with a great gust of nasty smelling cat breath that nearly knocked Henry off his feet. “Clever boy!” said the cat, “But my last question will be hardest of all, and when you get it wrong I will eat you!”

“Ready!” said Henry, wanting very much to run.

“What colors do you mix to make pink?” the cat asked, raising an eyebrow.

Henry froze. He thought back to all the art projects he’d done with his mom.

They’d mixed all kinds of colors together to make brown, black, yellow, blue – but how did they make pink? Seconds went by. The cat inched closer to him and Henry could hear a low rumbling sound, the gurgle of the cat’s stomach.

“Red!” blurted Henry, knowing at least that red was definitely part of pink.

“Red and what?!” said the cat, coming even closer.

Henry’s mind raced. He knew it wasn’t blue or green or orange. But if red was just a lighter shade it could be pink, yes? What could make red a little less red? Just then he looked down at his feet, thinking hard, and there by his right foot was a white rock.

“White!” shouted Henry. “Red mixed with white make pink!”

The cat jumped up on its hind legs and roared in frustration, clawing the air.

Henry bolted. He ran harder and faster than he ever had before, and when he looked behind him he saw the big kit coming towards him, bounding from mountaintop to mountaintop and gaining on him.

Henry jumped across one final hill and found Charlie crouched by a boulder, the kitten in his arms. He grabbed Charlie and the kitten and jumped lickety-split up towards the blue ball of Earth and managed—just barely—to grab hold of it and pull himself up with one arm, but when he looked down the giant cat was in mid-air jumping after him with one huge paw raised to strike.

The ferocious moon cat’s paw, with claws outstretched, swished with a rush of hot air within inches of Henry’s feet, barely missed him. And with one last pull Henry lifted himself and his brother and the kitten back to the yard in front of their house in Darien, Connecticut.

They were home and safe at last.

The only problem was that Henry was still as tall as a skyscraper and could not fit in their house, while Charlie was regular size.

But it turns out there’s a solution to everything. Because they soon found out that the moon kitten, who they named Bongo, pooped silver dollars. Lots and lots of silver dollars. So the boys gave them to mom and dad, and with all the extra money they built a huge addition on their house just for Henry. (Truth be told, they kept a few dollars hidden in a piggy bank to buy candy with, or cat toys for Bongo).

Charlie and Henry would play together as they always did before their BongoBongo bean moon adventure. In time, of course, Charlie grew to be just as big as Henry. And at some point every day, after playing and playing with all their toys for hours, they’d give each other a hug.

“No matter what,” Henry would say, “You’ll always be my best little brother.”

“And you’ll always be my best big brother,” Charlie would reply.

And Bongo would always be the smartest little moon cat there ever was.

THE END

 

#grandpa

#grandfathers

#grandparenting

 

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Merry Christmas from Captain Teddy

Hello Good Grandpa friends! It’s been quite a year for all of us, hasn’t it? But somehow we’re making it through together. Like so many grandparents, I can’t be with…

Hello Good Grandpa friends!

It’s been quite a year for all of us, hasn’t it? But somehow we’re making it through together. Like so many grandparents, I can’t be with my kids and grandkids this year. That’s hard. So in addition to the usual FaceTime chats I made my own little video to spread some holiday cheer. Enjoy.

Grandpa Ted (a.k.a. Captain Teddy)

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Dreaming Goodbye

To appreciate this true story, you need to know a bit about my Aunt Lois. Now in her 90s, Lois is a Vermonter through and through, as down to earth…

To appreciate this true story, you need to know a bit about my Aunt Lois.

Now in her 90s, Lois is a Vermonter through and through, as down to earth as any person you’ve ever met, and not one to make things up. Although she spent her teenage years in Belmont, Massachusetts, she’s really a Vermonter, having raised my three cousins in Windsor, Vermont, and in the summer joining my family at our shared farm in Westmore, hidden in the far reaches of the state known as the Northeast Kingdom; a place befitting its name, with thousands of acres of dense forest, open farmlands with grazing cows, and Lake Willoughby — a five mile stretch of starkly cold water surrounded by rock-ribbed mountain cliffs that hug the shore.

It’s a place without pretense, where the 30-pound trout pulled up from the ice holes in January are in fact 30-pound trout, with no need for exaggeration.

And so it is with Lois. She just tells it like it is. I picture Lois now down by the lakeshore on a late summer day, the wind blowing in from the South to make the white-topped waves roll and rumble against the beach. Lois’ face is long and deeply lined, her fingers twisted by arthritis into bony branches of an apple tree as she gesticulates to make her points. When she starts to tell the story, she’s transformed in my mind to how she was in 1939, tall and beautiful with long wavy red hair.

Lois was in her senior year of high school, and friends with a boy a little older than her. His name was Willard Haskell. Lois had a feeling he was “sweet on her,” but he was shy; somehow he’d never managed to ask her out. When the Second World War began, however, Willard found the courage to enlist in the Air Force. He’d always wanted to be a pilot and this was his chance. The only problem was that Willard wasn’t good at math, and he was worried he wouldn’t pass the tough air force exam. He turned to Lois for help and she tutored him for months. It worked. Willard got into the air force and was shipped off to England. Lois and Willard exchanged a few letters, but gradually they lost touch as the war stretched on into years.

Then one night in early summer as Lois slept in the farmhouse just up from the shores of Lake Willoughby, she had a vivid dream.

She was standing on the roof of Belmont High School, looking up, and the entire sky as far as the eye could see was full of American bombers, their wings tip to tip, sheet metal rivets gleaming in the early morning light. And there, leaning out the cockpit window of one bomber, was none other than Willard Haskell. He was smiling at her, and waving, his long red scarf fluttering behind. The world shook from the roar of the engines, so intense Lois could feel the roof beneath her bare feet vibrating. And suddenly she was awake.

Lois went downstairs, where my grandmother was in the kitchen making breakfast. “You’ll never believe the dream I had,” Lois told her. “It was so real.” My gram listened, shaking her head at the story. “Well, isn’t that something!”

A short time later, the mailman came by, all excited, “Did you year the news?” he asked, “The allies have landed at Normandy. It’s D-Day!” They immediately turned on the radio to hear the whole story. So long expected, news of the invasion was thrilling and overwhelming, to the point where Lois’ dream fell to the back of her mind.

News of the D-Day invasion.

But two weeks later other news came.

Willard Haskell was missing in action and presumed dead, his bomber shot down over Normandy on the morning of the invasion. The same morning that Lois had the dream.

Lois never once in all her telling of the story said that Willard Haskell’s spirit had come to her to say one final goodbye after his plane, riddled with holes and trailing smoke and flame like his rippling red scarf, rammed into the roiling waves of the English channel. A goodbye that could not be done with a phone call. Or a letter. There was no time, of course; no possible 1944 technology. Only in a dream could such a swift message be conveyed, instantly, across continents, faster than wind or clouds, as Lois lay asleep, her red hair fanned across a white pillow on the top floor of a peaceful Vermont farmhouse; only with eyes closed could Willard be seen, waving one final time.

When I checked with the Department of Veterans’ Affairs to confirm Willard Haskell’s fate, and I related Lois’ story, they said, “You would be amazed how often we’ve heard of this happening. First a dream, then they get the telegram.”

This made me dig a little deeper into the nature of dreams. It turns out that in Native American cultures there is a widespread belief that in a certain period of dreaming, in that space between deep night sleep and the slow climb towards waking, that spirits can visit us. It’s the time just before the dawn, before eyelids let in daylight, before the flights of imagination have fully come down to earth, a kind of in-between place; and sometimes — with startling and vivid clarity — we see a husband or wife, a mother or father, a grandparent. They touch our hand and say that they still love us. They whisper in our ear that they are all right. That we are all right. That they love us. There at that rare and brief moment, with all the worries of life behind them, they come softly to us and dream their goodbyes. And when we wake, we wonder if it really happened, and we tell our family and our friends, and they shake their heads in wonder with us, and we say that we’ll never really know the truth. But deep down, we know. Deep down, when we dream.

Lois sits looking out at the water, her eyes invisible behind her big-framed pink 1970s sunglasses. Seagulls are swooping close to shore, some hovering in the wind, white wings over the blue sky. And when I ask Lois if maybe, just maybe, this vivid dream she can’t ever forget was Willard Haskell’s spirit saying goodbye, she just makes a ‘tsk’ sound and scoffs, “Well, I don’t know about that.”

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The Babysitters

For us grandparents, babysitting sick grandchildren is just part of the drill. But could we withstand the dreaded norovirus and puke tsunami? My daughter Abigail and son-in-law Ryan had been…

For us grandparents, babysitting sick grandchildren is just part of the drill. But could we withstand the dreaded norovirus and puke tsunami?

My daughter Abigail and son-in-law Ryan had been having a tough time of it. Grandson Henry—now a long and lanky five-year-old—had come down with a bad stomach bug – the dreaded norovirus. So bad he’d been vomiting non-stop to the point where dehydration gave him double vision.

Abigail was deeply tired and stressed out caring for poor sick Henry while our youngest grandson, Charlie, still demanded attention (as three-year-olds do).

Abigail brought Henry to the emergency room where he needed to be attached to an IV to get rehydrated.

Her stress permeated anguished texts that described how she and several nurses had to hold Henry down as he thrashed and howled when they put in his IV. Henry had screamed, “Help me!” and all Abigail could do was keep holding him down for his own good.

“It’s so hard,” we texted back, “we know.”

I was brought back to the time I had to hold down our 6-year-old son, Nicholas, when he needed a spinal tap to diagnose meningitis. The procedure was so traumatic the doctors gave Nicholas a drug so he’d never remember the experience. I thought, “Where’s my drug?”

Henry made a speedy recovery, just in time for Charlie to come down with the same bug; he began vomiting (apparently all over the place). Abigail’s dog, Rory, was also puking.

To make things even more stressful, Abigail and Ryan had a tropical getaway planned for that weekend.

We grandparents had been lined up months in advance to babysit, and were determined to help them get far from the December New England chill and the puke tsunami.

When we arrived, Charlie was still sick with a fever and totally miserable. He kept saying, “My tummy hurts,” and instead of doing his usual routine—running laps around the house—he was curled up on the couch. Rory kept making “gak” sounds from deep down in her throat as if on the verge of bringing up dog chow like a fire hose. Henry wanted someone to read him a book. Or play Frosty the Snowman on the Kindle. And get him a cup of milk. The picture window in the living room showed the dreary tangle of maple trees in the sloping back yard, grey-brown leafless trunks darkly wet in the slanted curtain of freezing rain and snow.

“I feel so bad leaving you with all this,” Abigail texted from the plane.

“Don’t worry,” Nancy texted. “We’ve done this before.”

Walking into this environment where one touch of a microbe-infested doorknob or sniffle might lead to days of feverish hurling was just part of the drill. Mere mortals would have been excused from this duty. After all, if a five-year-old got so sick he required hospitalization, what would the norovirus do to a sixty-year-old like us? This bug is known for being extremely contagious and tough to kill. It can live on a toilet handle for two weeks, and is so resilient it just laughs at Clorox wipes. The only thing that kills it is industrial-grade bleach like you’d have in the rescue truck along with your hazmat suit in a Congo contagion zone.

Over the course of the next three days we gave Charlie Tylenol and stroked his back, read many books, and watched Rudolf the Red Nosed Reindeer and other Christmas favorites.

We did dinosaur puzzles and other activities – taking frequent breaks to scrub down our hands with hot water and soap like surgeons.

It kept raining and snowing for days, a nasty wintry mix. And all the while we’d see Abigail’s Instagram stories with her and Ryan’s smiling faces bathed in warm sun, drinks in hand at a beach.

Each picture of Abigail happy and rested was a thank you for the gift that we had brought, this gift that sometimes only we grandparents can provide. A blessed break from it all. A chance, however brief, to relax and take a deep breath. To bask in the sun, knowing that the kids were ok. More than ok, actually. In very experienced hands.

Sitting in the living room in dark Connecticut where the dog was going “gak!” and Charlie was moaning and Henry wanted attention and the cold rain tapped against the windows was a pleasurable duty—an expression of our love and commitment—and I could feel that tropical sun on my face with a warmth I can never fully measure or convey in mere words.

Abigail and Ryan returned after three days, and Nancy and I headed back to Boston. That night Nancy’s stomach started to hurt very badly, and soon she was praying on her knees to the porcelain God, her temperature 101. I tucked her into bed, wondering if I would be next.

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A Walk in the Snowy Woods After the Brain Scan

The eye doctor looked at me clinically, calmly and said, “There does not appear to be any obvious reason why your 6th optic nerve stopped working. Could be just a…

The eye doctor looked at me clinically, calmly and said, “There does not appear to be any obvious reason why your 6th optic nerve stopped working. Could be just a virus and your vision will clear up on its own. But we’ll have to have an MRI done to rule out a brain tumor or stroke.”

This is the kind of thing one hears at the age of 59, a sort of welcome basket to 60 packed with nasty shit I don’t want to think about.

A week before the appointment, my vision had gone double. While driving, the right side of the road looked as if it were in the middle of the road at an angle. A person six feet away looked like twins.

I’ll admit that I’m a worrier.

As soon as the doctor said the word ‘tumor’ I was sure that was exactly what had caused the problem. A friend of mine had told me only recently that if I died today, I’d have lived an amazing life and should have no regrets—especially since I have three grandchildren. How prescient of my friend to predict my impending demise so accurately!

But kicking the bucket now was not, I told myself firmly, going to happen because I’d promised I would be there for my grandchildren for a long, long time.

You have to wonder how many people have similar objections to death, as if the Grim Reaper actually listens.

One minute we’re raising perfectly reasonable objections, and the next we find ourselves suspended in the air looking down at our bodies on the operating table, in the car wreck, or slumped at a restaurant table by the hidden bits of almond garnish we had told the waiter we were allergic to.

The MRI brain scan came out negative. Miraculously, my baseball-sized (it had actually grown to be larger than my whole head) tumor did not exist. Within two weeks my vision started to clear up.

When you hear the word ‘tumor’ from a doctor, though, you can’t ever fully forget it.

The word sticks to your consciousness as vigorously as any stage 4 glioblastoma grips your brain. Trying to force the fear out doesn’t work. What author Siddhartha Mukherjee called “The Emperor of All Maladies” rules the fretful underworld of our everyday existence, and the only way to deal with this reality is to accept it and let the fear flow out as quietly as it flowed in.

With this in my mind, I went snowshoeing in the Vermont woods today after a heavy snowfall.

Even with the snowshoes on, each step took me two feet down, and I began to sweat in the chill air as I churned deeper into the woods. Fresh deer tracks in the path showed they’d been there just before me.

I paused when I reached the Falls. In other seasons, this part of the brook is where water cascades over wide, flat rocks coated in thick green moss. Today, a gap in the snow showed only a peek of the rushing water beneath, and the sound of the water was muffled by the heavy snow that clung to tree branches like a thick white parka. I stood there, listening and looking at nothing, for a long while, until I saw with a start three deer leaping to the left and away up the hill, the sides of their faces and big bright eyes and their broad tan flanks one after the other visible only briefly between the trunks of cedar trees.

The cedar trees….the bark of cedar trees…I stared at the bark of the nearest tree and saw its dark brown color in stark contrast to the white snow all around, and noticed the texture of the bark, the pattern of narrow lines of vertical growth separated by troughs, and the way branches grew out of the bark as if they had muscled their way through a curtain, leaving semicircles of growth around them.

And then like a camera that zooms away from its subject, I took in the whole scene of cedar trees, dozens of them along both banks of the Falls, and the flowing mounds of snow around the base of their trunks, white snow that in the shade of the cedars became light and even dark blue, with the brown corduroy of the cedar trunks rising out of the blue and blending with the snow-covered boughs towards the thick canopy of branches above.

After a time—I can’t measure it in minutes—I trudged back out of the forest and came into the field by my house.

The sun was just starting to come out after the last remnants of storm clouds melted away, so here the snow was blindingly white.

I went inside and ate hot chicken soup by the fire.

#grandfathers #grandparents #NEK

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Transformation

My daughter, Abigail, called it first. “Shira’s pregnant!” she exclaimed just after my son, Nicholas, and my daughter in law, Shira, left the house that Christmas day. “Why do you…

My daughter, Abigail, called it first. “Shira’s pregnant!” she exclaimed just after my son, Nicholas, and my daughter in law, Shira, left the house that Christmas day.

“Why do you think that?” Nancy asked.

“Because she wasn’t drinking!”

“I agree,” I said, “But it wasn’t just because she wasn’t drinking.”

At one point in the day, Abigail and Henry (my oldest grandson, 3 at the time) pushed a toy stroller with two doll babies into the room by the Christmas tree and I saw Nicholas glance at Shira knowingly and reach out to touch her hand. He could have used a megaphone and it wouldn’t have been clearer.
To think of Nicholas with a baby was in a way even more mind blowing than the thought of Abigail, our oldest, with babies. Nicholas was always someone who took his time in life. When he was in grade school I got frustrated with him for refusing to learn how to tie his sho

My son, Nicholas, with his newborn daughter, Roen Lilah Page.

es.

“Don’t you want to be a big boy and learn how?” I asked plaintively.

Nicholas replied, “It’s easier when you do it.”

In school, Nicholas followed my not very scholarly footsteps. He’d get good grades in things he was interested in (writing), and bad grades in things he hated (math, Spanish), averaging out to a solid C that never reflected his smarts and extraordinary talent. After graduating from High School he went on to major in illustration at the School of Visual Arts in Manhattan. His work was amazing, selected by the faculty to represent the whole class. But in his fourth year, he decided that attending class was somehow optional. To urge him on, I appealed to his visual sensibilities.

“Nicholas,” I said, “stop for a moment and picture yourself in your graduation gown walking across the stage to get your diploma. Once you see it, you’ll create a path to make it happen.”

And he did. A year later, he walked, beaming, across the stage of New York’s Radio City Music Hall to receive his diploma.

His transformation from someone who had to be urged to do something into someone who took it upon himself to make things happen was gradual. I could see it when he decided to woo Shira; at first she resisted, but after years of Nicholas’ dogged pursuit, she relented.

Their wedding on an estate in Waltham was marked by an epic torrential rainstorm with high winds. Everyone watched their phones for the minute-to-minute radar weather reports, which showed a break in the rain that would match the moment of their vows under a giant birch tree. Sure enough the rain paused just long enough for our families to walk across the soggy grass, under the dripping canopy of leaves, to see their luminous ceremony bracketed by the red, purple, pink, white and yellow flowers of the chuppah. Just after their vows were said and we started back towards the party tent, the storm of Shakespearian proportions erupted. It made me wonder if their marriage would be a calm counterpart to the rainy wind-tossed drama of their wedding day, or a storm itself.

Baby Roen (Roe) arrived in September. She is a beautiful, beautiful girl with her father’s big brown eyes and Shira’s lovely expressive face. When Roe wails, nearby glassware trembles as if buffeted by gusts of hard sideways rain. When she babbles, I can sense that it makes perfect sense to her, and it is I who must learn her language. When she whacks the little rabbit dangling from the mobile above her and it spins, she smiles at the revelation that things can be moved.

A photo of Nicholas holding his sleeping newborn girl, she snuggled to his shoulder, him looking at the camera with peaceful content, reminds me of all the pictures I’ve had of Nicholas in my mind over the years, the hopes I had for him, the dreams of what he could do if he put his mind to it, the paths towards success I urged him to envision to make real. The boy who didn’t want to tie his shoes had learned the art of loving determination, and because of that his world and mine have changed—the whole world has changed because Roe is now in it with us.

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