Rose Petals: Petal Three

I mentioned that Rose is shy. But that is not completely true. She is shy before she gets to know you. Then watch out.

She also eagerly awaits my visits. That is pleasant, as I think no one else does anymore. Age will do that to you. As excited as I feel sometimes, I notice that my excitement is not always shared by the younger generation. The younger generation, if male, looks at you as if looking at a stone; the younger generation, if female, looks right through you; while the younger generation, if your own kids, looks at you as if counting screws to determine how many you are missing. With the way-younger generation, however, it is a different matter. Excitement for a two-year old does not require a whole lot. Everything new that does not cause pain is exciting.

The other day I "scheduled" a visit. I find it is best that way. You don't just pop in these days. The younger generation may be engaged in much more important things than visiting with you,  une personne d'un certain âge. But not so the much-younger generation. My son told me that Rose followed him around all morning asking when I was coming. Or rather, when he and she were going to the train station to pick me up. Yes, going to the train station was exciting in itself. At 10 it might still be exciting, but at 20 it is probably not. At two, however, it is something you might easily anticipate with excitement all morning. And then for her grandfather to be there too. Wow, that was excitement.

Moreover, some bit of clever scheming had been involved as well. My son always drives his "muscle" car—a classic Chevy Chevelle, yellow with black racing stripes, to the station. But there is a problem. There is no kid's seat in the back. So Rose talked him into putting one of the kid seats from the "family" car into the rear seat of the Chevelle so that she could come along. How much more exciting could things get! Think like a two-year old and ennui becomes a thing of the past.

Coming from San Francisco, I got off the BART train at the Ashby Station in Berkeley, made a phone call, and within minutes the two arrived. Rose wore the smug look of someone who had concocted an elaborate scheme that had worked perfectly; she looked like she was running the whole show, and perhaps she was.

But planning didn't stop with our arrival at the house. She asked me to pick her up and carry her up the stairs to her room. I was thinking more along the lines of drinking a beer while sitting on the couch and catching up with my son, but I cooperated with her plan and carried her upstairs. There in her room she quickly pulled books from her library, some in English, some in French, and we began reading. Her très belle maman is from Paris and talks to her mostly in French while her father, my handsome son, speaks to her in English. I switch back and forth, using the French if I know it.

First we read a book about a little French girl, Madeleine, who lived in a boarding school with twelve other young girls, and about the dog they all shared getting lost or disappearing. Of course there was no rest at the boarding school until the dog was found. And guess what? When the dog was finally found it was giving birth to puppies—twelve of them. Each girl then had her own dog and was une personne très heureuse, a very happy person. Ah, if only real life worked out that way. I'm sure that if I had been Madeleine in the story, I would have found my dog dead in the street, run over by a car, in a story of misery compounded by death. That is at least the way it used to be with me.

Then we read other stories: One about a friendly bear who saved people from fires—how many of those guys have you met?—and one about a timid rabbit who barely escaped a clever, murderous fox. I'm sure that if I had been the rabbit in the story I would have been eaten alive by the fox, but I said nothing to Rose of that; she would find out soon enough how the world really works. And we read another one about a happy family that goes on a fishing vacation by a lake in the mountains and has no problem other than that they forgot the toothpaste! They survived for a week brushing without toothpaste. Imagine that! I could have told Rose a thing or two about hardship but refrained from doing so. I imitated brushing my teeth with my finger and spitting noisily into an imaginary sink. Rose found this funny and did the same, making even louder spitting sounds, more like someone throwing up.

Anyway, we had a great time reading books, brushing our teeth with fingers ... Then Rose started pulling clothes out of her closet. First she got out another pair of shoes and socks and needed help putting them on. Papis—that is what she calls me—helped.

I explained that name in Rose Petals: Petal One. But let me explain it one more time, as you may not have read the first Rose Petals story.

When I first started visiting Rose and her baby brother a few months back—I had kind of neglected my grandkids up to that time and had come under some criticism for it—Rose was confused about who I was. Her lovely mother and handsome father were calling me "Papa Louis." What was this all about? Did she have more than one Papa? Maman explained to her that I was papa's papa, papa de papa. Amazing. She did not know he had one too. She had thought that he was the source of all life—or something like that. Now it turned out that he was just one of the links in the chain of life—or something like that. Actually, I'm not sure what she thought but it resolved some problem she had about who I was. And, perhaps more importantly, she combined "Papa Louis" into a single, unifying name, "Papis." It was as though some fundamental religious or philosophical problem had been resolved and life could peacefully move on until some new crisis of faith or belief arose. But that would be centuries off, right? Or at least not until lunch time.

I hadn't helped such a small person put on socks and shoes in many years but she had confidence in me and I did it. Then, all by herself, she changed her top to a bright red pullover shirt and her bottom, I think pants, to a little white tutu, gleefully showing me her pretty underwear along the way. Shy was a long time ago now.

Next she needed to go wee-wee and asked me to come to the bathroom with her. On my last visit she had screamed when I approached the half-open door of the bathroom when she was in it. She had also screamed at the idea of my seeing her in the bathtub when my son was giving her a bath. So I was a little surprised with her new policy of openness around me. But that was before. In the Age of Papis, all such barriers came down. "Trust," that word used so often by sleazy politicians, was the key here, I guess; but here it was genuine, unreserved.

We proceeded to the bathroom where she demonstrated how to insert her little toilet seat into the big one. She pulled down her tutu and underwear and hopped up on the toilet with a big grin on her face. She looked like a young princess on the throne.

"Wow!" I said. I was impressed, and sincerely so. My granddaughter was some kind of bathroom whiz. She peed, then tore off a strip of toilet paper, wiped herself, then threw the piece of paper, almost contemptuously, into the toilet. Yes, I think a true princes would behave just like that.

Another "Wow!" from Papis and some applause.

A little aside: I went through the same thing with my Spanish granddaughter, Isabella, about five years ago in Puigcerda, Spain. She did it perfectly except she forgot to wipe. She tore off the strip of toilet paper, then, with a big, know-it-all grin, threw it into the toilet. Well, almost right. I gave her full credit for the thought and said nothing about the missing step.

"Muy bien, nieta!"

Rose asked for assistance getting off the toilet seat, which I politely offered to la petite princesse. Then we went to the sink to wash hands.

Wow, indeed, she had it all down. I showed her how she could cup her hands and also wash her face. She was simply amazed at this. She began to scrub her face with her hands so rapidly I was afraid she might injure herself.

"Careful of your eyes," I said. I always worry about the little ones hurting themselves, especially their eyes. Rambunctiousness knows no limits at two but often, I notice, ends in tears; they don't know how to put on the brakes yet.

But such enthusiasm. "Wow," again; it is almost contagious.  You don't see anything like that past the age of 10 or 12. Judged solely on the basis of raw enthusiasm, life is over by age 15. One trudges on into the other stages of life, protected by reason, logic, education ... but that fundamental spark, what William Blake called Enfant Joy, is mostly gone.

Shakespeare had the stages down in As You Like It, but he might have added more on the enfant stage than just "Mewing and puking in the nurse's arm" and included a little less on the second childhood "sans teeth, sans eyes ..." The latter, all ash, no spark, is just too depressing.

Following our trip to the bathroom, we went downstairs and joined the "old folks" and little brother. Rose got a little jealous when I fed little brother his dinner. She is a kindly, nurturing kid and often feeds little brother herself. But when I returned to the couch after feeding little brother she made an ugly face and slugged me. I was baffled.

"Are you mad?" I asked.

She did not answer but her lips tightened in a little circle. She also looked like she was about to cry.

"Are you angry?" I asked using another word. 

She nodded. I finally got it. Her brother had gotten my attention and she wanted it all for herself. I understood that old devil jealousy and gave her a hug, then all was well. She sat at the adult dinner table by my side, eating partly off her plate and partly off mine. Wow, what more attention could I want than this? I guess having a granddaughter is a "swell" experiene, using a word that people haven't used in ages.

The next day I ran into a friend. Almost immediately he observed, "You look very happy. Got a new girlfriend?"

"Not exactly," I said. "I visited my granddaughter yesterday. I think I caught something. Her enthusiasm, her joie de vivre, is contagious."

See also Rose Petals: Petal One and Rose Petals: Petal Two
By Louis Martin