Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Love and the Single First Grader

I'm involved in a lot of important things. There's politics, there's the medical care system, there's the Warriors (think new team, not just updated old team), and this year I'm even following the Raiders with great interest (think easy schedule.) But above all of this, I'm tuned in to 6 ¾ (don't forget that “3/4,” we're micromanaging age these days) years old Lola. Lola. What a character is Lola. When she is introduced to someone new, she knows what's coming, so she has started to mutter, “Whatever Lola wants....” Ah, Lola.

Lola and I just hang out, totally at our ease. She can be on her iPad (Cookie Swirl C! Shopkins!) and I can be on my laptop (emails! SOAPM listserve!), or we can be walking down to Star Market together holding hands, or we can be driving home from her school together. I can put on my classical station while we drive and she can kind of listen and say, “That's like the Nutcracker.” Or I can put on the kids station and we can sing along with it. We tune in together.

One thing about Lola, “demure” does not and will never describe Lola. Lola is, in the immortal words of her grandmother Ann, a native born shitkicker. She is really so funny. We were driving home from school and I thought I'd put in some education. I said, “Lol, remember how we talked about the physical states of matter? (OK, big vocabulary there, but we had talked about this.) So, what's the solid state of water?”

She thought a minute and said, “Frozen water?”

“No, not quite. Think about it. You go into a cave, or you are in the mountains and it's cold, and you look around you, and what does water look like?”


“Right! Now you got it. Now, what's liquid water?”

No pause at all, “Water!”

“Right. Now, what is water when it's a gas?”

Small pause. Then, “Fart!”


She's a shitkicker. How can you not laugh?

Typical for her age, in the last few years poop has been a recurrent source of raucous laughter. Nothing wrong with that, I figure. In fact, truthfully, I've heard more than once, “Stop encouraging her, Budd.” She's actually pretty funny, IMHO.

She has now, however, evolved from poop. She is now not unlikely to come out with “butt crack.” Butt crack. Where did that come from? It's a little more personal than poop, I guess, in a way. A little more … what? Incisive, maybe, both literally and figuratively. We wince a little, chortle maybe, and let it go, and make sure she knows it's not for the public to hear.

So Lola and I, we hang out – two field trips last week! On Tuesday she had off and we drove into the California Academy of Sciences in SF – the aquarium, the rain forest. After we parked we went out a back exit and scurried up the earthen bank leading up to the aquarium as a short cut. Lola hauled herself up by clinging to a grate. Climbing up a slope in the middle of the city. Later, we agreed this was the most fun of a very fun day. Unfortunately, one of Lola's less desirable inheritances from her mother Sara is car sickness. So on this trip she puked going in, and she puked coming home. The last time she said observationally, not upset but a scientist, “It's brown.” She was soaked. She got out of the car at home, put her arms out like a scarecrow and said, near tearfully, “I don't want to touch me!” Into the house and Grandma's specialty, the bath. Fifteen minutes later I ventured into the bathroom to find her supine and at ease, body out and head back with mouth just under the surface, calmly blowing bubbles in the water, observing the results. She loves her bath, and clean clothes.

Then on Sunday we went to the Oakland Zoo. Ann passed – she said she's gone once this year, and that's her quota. So off we went a little late, because Lola wanted us to play school first, with all her stuffed animals lined up under the window on the stairs as students, with me – Baba – as teacher's assistant. We got the farthest parking place in the lot but it was a nice day, we scurried down an embankment, got our hands stamped for reentry, and settled in by the flamingos for a little. Lola stood back and looked around and said, “Grandma doesn't know what she's missing.” Actually, she did know what she was missing, but it's a good point.

When we go to the aquarium and the zoo, I just kind of hold back and follow what she wants to do. At the zoo she has it mapped out in her head. Actually, she has added something to her repertoire on Sunday, looking at the actual handout map of the zoo. She opens it up, looks at it closely, says “Where are we?” and looks closely again and charts our course confidently. Since the map seems a little impressionistic to me and it isn't rectilinear, I have trouble with it. I'm not sure she actually connects her assuredness to results, and she's been here a lot so she knows the territory, but off she goes according to her map and intuition and I follow enthusiastically, knowing there are no precipices over which to topple.

On Sunday she had a set agenda. She told me, four rides and five animals. She said, “I told Grandma two rides, but I'm going to do four.” When I'm out with Lola and she wants things, I remember my mother when she had terminal cancer, although devotee to denial that I am, I never called it that, and we took my brother's daughter Emily and my son Peter out to the toy store, where they trolled the aisles. My mother had always been vigilant with limits, but as they came back with their choices, instead of a limit, she looked at me askance and said, “What does it matter?” Right, a little strange, but I got it. Kind of, I've done what I can do, now I'm just letting it go for someone else to do, I'm going to just let it go. I was just there to support.

I'm older now than my Mom was then, and although I know that limits are important, but I invoke them judiciously. Excellent mother that she is, Sara has set them very well, so I really don't have anything to add, just make sure I don't undercut. If she wants four rides, why the hell not? What's so virtuous about making the animals come first? Let her call the tune, I figure. I did negotiate her down from a $18 long snake stuffed animal to two little plastic figures for a buck apiece that she could play with imaginatively in the back seat on the way home – she is very firm with them. I told her the prices of the toys were ridiculous, and she accepted that well. It was something we did together. But as many rides as she wanted.

We took the Sky Ride chair lift first, which is her favorite. We sit side by side and schmooze. One thing Lola doesn't excel at is nicknames. A stuffed bear is “beary.” “Pelicany” is another. The first animals we see on the Sky Ride are giraffes. “Look at the baby,' said Lola. “We should give him a name.”

“Spotty,” she said. Good enough! Then the tigers, and the camels – the grounds are big enough that you have to look for them and discover where they are. “What's a camel with three humps called?” she quizzed me.

“I don't know.” Strange question.

“Pregnant,” she answered herself.

Wow, I thought. That's new! Where did she hear that? Up to now her only joke was the one I taught her, the old “why did the moron tiptoe past the medicine cabinet,” every kid's proverbial first joke, which she struggles to remember but is very fond of, because the other kids don't have any joke at all. Except for the knock-knock jokes which is her friend Felix's specialty.

Then she said, “What are those animals up there? Where are they?” That's the buffalos, and she wanted the story, which I was happy to tell her, how they used to be in the millions and how the Native Americans (that's what we say, “Native Americans,” and she doesn't think about the term for one minute, except when I slip into “Indians”) took one or two for food and clothing and then how the European hunters shot them nearly to extinction. “Just for target practice?” she asked.

“Yup,” I answered. She knows the story, and wonders at it. Then we talked about extinction, and she posited a way that a species could be reborn. “Nope, “ I said, once they're gone, they're gone. Harsh reality.

Then we were on the way down, the same animals in reverse. “They're going to have new animals over there” she said. Right, they are, in 2018, the California Trail.

And then I saw a tree that had fallen with branches all akimbo. “Look,” I said. I remembered a book we read about Fancy Nancy who wanted to be the lead ballerina of her ballet class but was disappointed and became a tree, and the teacher assuaged her disappointment by urging her to be a very graceful weeping willow. It's a book about disappointment and how to handle it. I had asked Lola how she was going to handle disappointment. She said that her solution was that she wouldn't ever be disappointed, and when I said everyone got disappointed sometimes, she wouldn't discuss it further. Maybe that lesson wasn't fully absorbed.

So I said, “Look at those branches. They're just like the branches of the other trees, but they go out instead of up.” I was really going on it. “Maybe you could be a tree like Nancy. You could reach out and be a weeping willow.”

She hardly looked at me. She just was looking around and said out of the corner of her mouth, “And you could be a butt crack.”

We had a wonderful time hanging out at the zoo, petting the goats, eating slushies, enjoying the gibbons twice. Sara had to call us to see when we were coming home. We got to their house and Lola told me she didn't want me to come up the stairs with her, she could do it herself, which she did, knocking on the door just loud enough for Sara to hear her and come to the door. So grown up! Before I left I told Sara the butt crack story, and she almost couldn't believe it and then laughed wondrously. I remembered every part of the day so I could repeat it and savor it with Ann. I wrote my friend Lynn about her the other day and told her that Lola and I were in love. I'm not sure that's what you would call it, but my hope is she'll know what it is to be relaxed and have fun with a good friend who is a man, and she will look for this and not accept less.

I'd say we love each other. Butt crack notwithstanding.

Budd Shenkin

1 comment:

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