How To Get in Their Heads and Hearts

Can you tell it’s me? Jenna drew a picture of me. Her mommie labeled the pictures for her. I am on the top! Cece. Yay! Just below and to the left is her Auntie Ivy. A self portrait is in the center. To the right of that is her “Grammy”, her daddy’s mom. On the bottom right is her brother Kasen, and, somehow, Kasen’s brand new kindergarten teacher made the grade and got in the love fest. Hope she knows how painful this is for those of us who have invested years!

I don’t care what I look like. I made the line up. That is what matters. Others probably would have made the line up, too, but she ran out of room on the paper. Even when I am not there with her, Jenna is thinking about me. And to top it all off, she wanted to FaceTime me to show me the picture she drew of me. What more could a grama want? I am so grateful to live close enough to my grandchildren so that I can see them often enough that I am in their heads. Of course, others might argue that I am in their heads because I am certified crazy and difficult to forget. There is a reason this is called Gramasylum. But I choose to believe the place I have in Jenna’s head is a result of the place I have in her heart.

Some have it some don’t

It does not take certified craziness to get in their heads and hearts. It just takes time and attention. Focused time and attention. I loved my mother dearly and she loved my children, but she did not know how to be with them. When they were babies she would cuddle and love on them. But once they started to move around, talk, and have opinions and express their wants and needs she was not tuned in. You know how toddlers love to “give” you things. They have something in their hand and they toddle over and offer it to you, hand it to you. Then, of course, they usually want it right back. Its a very important part of learning to interact and to give and take and to express and learn trust. My mother did not understand this. When one of my kids would give her something, she would say “No thanks, I don’t want that.” Or, “No, you can have it.” Not the end of the world for my children, but missed opportunities for her for sure in the early development of getting in their heads and hearts.

The key is focus

It doesn’t take a degree in developmental psychology. It is common sense. It takes focused time and attention to get in their heads and hearts–to develop significant connections with them. The key word is focus. Here are some helpful hints to focus.

Forget multi-tasking

Hint. Don’t try to do two things at once. Don’t try to read your email or text messages or watch television and put a puzzle together with them. Give them and the puzzle your full attention. Don’t just go along with it, make it fun and educational. Talk about the objects or characters in the puzzle as you put the puzzle together. One of our favorite puzzles is a dinosaur riding a bicycle with colorful plants all around and a volcano, too. Its become a mantra now. As we put the dinosaur and bicycle together we say, “What?! A dinosaur does not ride a bike!” We review the colors as we put the pink polka dotted palm tree together, and find the white clouds for the sky. The green and yellow striped grass is a dead give away for the location of some of the puzzle pieces. Then there are the edge pieces and the corners. All the shapes and colors and configurations make a simple puzzle a veritable classroom of learning! It takes months of putting this same puzzle together over and over again before they grow tired of it. And even then, there are times when the older grandchildren like to go back to this puzzle and do it again. Doing email or texting or watching television while putting the puzzle together will rob you of the time to really connect with these young minds and hearts. And they will get bored with it a lot quicker if you are not all in.

Forget a clean house

Hint. Forget a clean, neat house. Let it go, let it go. After they are gone you can focus on picking up and cleaning up. While they are with you expect your house to look like a hurricane went through. They are NOT adults. They will not play with the same thing for hours at a time (unless it is a computer or IPad or IPhone!!). They may not even make it through putting one whole puzzle together. The Barbie and Ken dolls and all the accessories will be strewn through two or three rooms. The Legos will be in various stages of construction the entire time they are at your house. The coloring, play dough, and painting table will be a complete mess. But think of all these spaces as learning and laughing and loving stations. Just go from station to station laughing and loving and learning. I guarantee that you will get in their heads and hearts.

Now, I do believe children can learn to be responsible at a very young age. When they are two to three I do help them begin to learn to clean up after themselves. But we do it together usually singing a song. “Clean up, clean up, everybody, everywhere. Clean up, clean up, everybody does their share.” Two or three times through and all the Barbie and Ken parts and pieces are in the bin. When they get older, competition gets them every time. “Ok! Let’s see who can pick up the most Legos!” Bam! Clean up done!

Forget your dignity

Hint. Forget dignity or decorum. Forget yourself. Be into them. Don’t care about what you look like or sound like. Tap into that child that still lives inside of you and let that child out! Let that child play with them. Be the monster they want you to be. Sound like Barbie or Ken when you are playing Barbie and Ken. When you play hide and seek pretend you can’t see them even when you see them right away. And be over the top dramatically surprised when you finally find them. This does not cost money or take any equipment. It takes focusing on hiding and finding. And, it takes letting go of dignity and decorum. Don’t be self-consciousness. Be kid conscious. They will play hide and seek for a long time if you remain focused. And, oh, you do have to be able to count to ten.

Summary just in case

Don’t multi-task. Give them your full and undivided attention. Don’t worry about a clean house. You can clean after they leave. And, don’t worry about what anyone else thinks about you. “Does she know what she looks like when she does that?!” “She sounds like a fool!” “Her house is a mess!” Yup. I look crazy and sound like a fool. And, my house is a disaster when they visit. It’s where I choose to live so that my grandchildren will draw crazy pictures of me even when I am not around. It is crazy wonderful, crazy love, and a crazy life. It is Gramasylum, after all.

Here it is up close. Now can you tell it’s me? She knows me and is thinking about me. It’s perfect.

The Name Game

We had Frankie for parts of four days. This was the second time we got to take care of her for an extended period of time. I was determined. She would learn to say my name. Cece. My other grandchildren learned to say it about this age. I can’t remember for sure exactly when. I could check my journal and find out but I am away from home this week. Believe me. I recorded it. It is a show stopper when these little ones call your name for the first time (see blogs dated 7/13/15 and 2/7/16). If their language ability allowed it, anything they would ask for after that, they would get!

Mama’s do have an advantage

Of course her mom and dad were working on similar projects. She has Jimmy Fallon’s book, Dada. I am sure Frankie’s daddy reads it to her daily. Mamas always have a proximity advantage for all sorts of reason. There’s the womb thing. The birthing thing. The breast feeding thing. All combined these make for formidable competition in the name game.

On top of it all, Frankie also has a nanny. Her name is Raquel. No competition there. Not because she is not the most wonderful nanny in the world, but because Raquel is a very hard name to say for a toddler.  Ma ma. Da da. Ce Ce. These are all easier. We all had an advantage over Raquel. However, Raquel is with her almost every day, and has been since she was three or four months old. I think I remember my daughter being concerned she might call Raquel, Ma ma! Now that I think about it, when Frankie is tired or hungry she does do a “ma ma ma ma” kind of chant. No matter who is holding her. Ah. It’s just easy syllables. Not associated with any particular person. (Or so I tell myself.)

The CeCe project

The whole time she was with me, it was CeCe, CeCe, CeCe. CeCe this. CeCe that. “Can you say CeCe?”  “Where’s CeCe?”  Once in awhile I threw in a Papa for good measure and in the effort toward parity. Even Papa helped with the CeCe project regularly asking her, “Where’s CeCe?”

It never did come out of her mouth. When asked the question by Papa, Frankie would look around and find me. And even after she left, my daughter sent me a short video of Frankie responding to the question, “Where’s CeCe?”  When my daughter asked her this, she went and looked around the doorway into the living room. When she did not see me there, Frankie came over to where my daughter was using her phone to take the video and wanted to see the phone. Frankie thought I was FaceTiming and wanted to see my face on the phone! She knows who I am! Yay! Crazy love just gets crazier at moments like this. However, she still did not say my name.

Back to our house where she was with us for four days. I thought maybe she’d wake up one of the final mornings calling for me. Nope. I thought maybe when she was hungry or tired she would chant, CeCe, CeCe. Nope. I thought maybe after a million “Can you say Cece?’s” she might come through. Nope.

Maybe it was the Fallon book

So the time came. Mama and Dada were coming back to get her. I knew they were as anxious to see her as I was not anxious to let her go. But deep inside of me I have the desire to be a good mom and mother-in-law, in addition to being a crazy good grama.  So, when I knew they were about to arrive, I brought her out to the front of our place so she could see them drive in. When they got out of the car, both mama and dada were looking for Frankie and immediately shouting, “Frankie! Frankie! Hello, Frankie!”

Frankie looked at me and Papa. Then looked back at her mama and dada approaching in the parking lot. Frankie pointed and said, drumroll… No she did not say, “drumroll.”  That is my way of trying to create suspense and more drama in the telling of this story. Frankie, pointed and said, “Dada!” Yes. Dada. Not CeCe. Not Mama. She said, “Dada.” My daughter immediately reacted, “What am I, chopped liver?” “How about Mama?” she said with a forlorn voice.

Dada had won out. Clear and undeniably. We all heard it. The look on Dada’s face was worth a million bucks. Of course, if she had said Cece, the look on my face would have been worth two million bucks. It was not to be.

My time will come

The project will continue. I will continue to work on teaching her to say my name every chance I get. I console myself with knowledge gained from loving my other four grandchildren. With every one of them the time has come. It is awhile after they know all the names, but it will come. They know how to say Mama. They know how to say Dada. They know how to say Papa. Frankie may even have a name for Raquel! But, Cece knows there will come the day that Frankie will want Cece to do it. It does not matter what “it” is. Feed her, change, her, walk with her, play with her. They all have come to the place where the parents roll their eyes because no matter what they try to do for Frankie, she will say, “Cece do it.” Big smile on my face that you cannot see in this post. And, Cece will do it, no matter what it is. Because this is the crazy place I live called Gramasylum. I will do any and every crazy thing necessary to hear this phrase. Forget just the name. “Cece do it.” Rocks my world every time.

My youngest daughter already warned her sister. “Are you ready for the CeCe craziness? Are you ready for Frankie to want Cece to do everything?” she asked her sister. Frankie, don’t let me down. I am four for four. You can do this! Make my day! It’s possible. Make me crazier than ever. It’s where I live and I love it!

Too Much Jesus Loves Me

Easy Peazy Frankie

This is evidence that written instructions can be co-opted by the eyes of the heart that read it. My granddaughter Frankie is now 13 months old. While her mother works from home, I have been at her house to play with her and help take care of her several times since she was born. So, let’s just say I have been closely supervised. And, after an overnight test, which I passed, I have been given the privilege of taking care of Frankie for several days. Once in May when her mom and dad had to go to Michigan for a wedding. She survived. We had a blast. And now, this weekend, we have her for several days while her mom and dad get away for a much needed and deserved break. A lot of stress for them over the last couple of months. They needed a break. Papa and Cece were overjoyed to help them get that break. Frankie in residence for four days. Heaven. Combination of her temperament and their incredible job of raising her so far, she is easy peazy to take care of. Not easy peazy as in no work, but easy peazy in that she is so good natured and–stop reading now those of you have had had challenging sleepers–she goes down and sleeps like a charm. Wow! Wonderbaby!

It’s all in the meaning of bedtime

But she did come, each time, with written instructions. It is actually very helpful to have written instructions. I have never been a wiz at remembering detail and, with time, that deficiency has only increased. Having written instructions makes all the other changes my granddaughter encounters being away from home, less difficult.  We work hard to keep the routine described in the written instructions. Problem? I read the instructions wrong. Among other things, the instructions detail “bedtime routine.” I mistakenly thought this meant all bedtimes. I did not differentiate between final bedtime at night, and naps during the day. Simple minded that I am, I translated “bedtime” as any time going to bed. On the list of things to do at bedtime is to sing Jesus Loves Me to her. Being a person of faith and a pastor, of course, this really pleased me.

An accomplice

However, my misreading of the instructions was brought to light during this stay. My husband was reporting in to the parents to let them know all was well. I had passed on to him my understanding of the bedtime routine. He was on the phone describing how at naptime, before he even had a chance to sing, Frankie leaned away from him and down toward her bed. She wanted to go to bed. I had told him about her doing this leaning thing before, so he knew what it meant. She was ready for bed. Forget the routine! He placed her gently in the bed and patted her and kissed her and then began to sing Jesus Loves Me to her. She raised her head quickly, and looked at him. By his description, she looked at him as if to say, “What are you doing singing Jesus Loves Me now?” (Or, maybe it was, “You know that song, too?!”) Incredulous, our daughter interrupted the report and asked, “Have you been singing Jesus Loves Me to her at naptime?


Busted. We were both busted. Cece, a crazy grama had now trained a grandpa, Papa, to be crazy. I had been doing this from the very beginning. But now I had trained my husband incorrectly. We were singing Jesus Loves Me to Frankie at naptimes! I had misread the instructions. I had been singing too much Jesus Loves Me to this precious child. And now, I had an accomplice.

Grace abounded alongside love

Graciousness on the part of my daughter meant that she did not immediately return to collect her daughter. And further graciousness meant that we were able to laugh about it and she did not forbid us from singing to her at naptime. After all, apparently it had not disrupted her sleeping patterns to this point. And, is it really possible to sing too much Jesus Loves Me to a child? It may be possible to have too much exposure to a crazy grama, but not too much singing about the love of Jesus.

I am grateful for my daughter’s graciousness. Grateful to have a partner in crime in Papa in the singing and bedtime department. And, especially grateful for where I live in Gramasylum. This weekend with Frankie only makes me crazier with love than ever! But, never too much love, never too much singing, and, still not as much love as Jesus.

A Train Adventure, Part II

Heading back with two chillins

Alright. We left off last week smack in the middle of the train adventure. Lo and I had made it late but safely to Moorpark after missing a connection. We made it work and had a bite to eat and watched people at Union Station while we waited.

We played at cousin Kasen’s house for a few hours. But after reflecting on our missed connection and the later time we would be passing through Union Station, downtown Los Angeles, I  decided we would leave a little earlier to give us more time to make a connection. The one we had planned to take was the last train south to San Clemente. I am crazy but I am not a lunatic. I did not want to take any chance being stranded downtown, at night, with two small chillins in tow!

Learning from experience

My dear daughter who also did not want her son stranded downtown with a crazy grandmother, drove us to a nearby train station that had an earlier train. Taking this train we would arrive at Union Station with thirty minutes to make our connection, and there would be another train later if we needed it. Off we went. If all went well and we made the first connection, we would actually arrive home an hour earlier in the evening than our first itinerary. After this train adventure I would need that extra hour desperately!

Silliness on steroids

You can see in the photo above that the return trip with Kasen along started out fine. Both children look the picture of manners and decorum. Let’s just say it did not stay that way. They never became naughty or rude or out of control. Let’s just say that if it were possible to get kicked off a train for silliness, we would have definitely been off that train. Pictures don’t lie.

Somehow they made a game and a contest and an artform out of eating small peanut butter and jelly sandwiches I had packed for them. I won’t even tell you what they were doing with the very large green grapes I had packed for them. Let’s just say I had to give them only one grape at a time to prevent the shenanigans. They were having a blast. Silliness on steroids. Every thirty seconds I had to remind them to keep the volume down. They were not screaming and hollering, just laughing so uncontrollably that when they tried to talk to each other the conversation was quite robust. They would quiet down every time I asked. Very compliant. But they would be back up in the silliness decibels within thirty seconds every time.

Then there was the closeness. They are close. They really do love each other. There were plenty of seats. They did not have to share one. Let’s just say that the availability of empty seats did not matter. They wanted to sit together.

Certainly, you get the idea by now. They were so busy being silly inside the train, I am not sure they saw much outside the train. But Crazy Cece is also an educator and a pastor. There is no way these two chillins were going to get away with not learning anything but silliness on this train adventure.

Warning: silly adventure turns to serious education

When my husband and I took the train from San Clemente all the way to Seattle, Washington in September 2015 I had noticed them. All along the way, in every state, small and large towns alike, there were homeless encampments all along the railroad tracks. Some of the encampments were small–one or two lean-tos or tarp-covered shopping carts, one large cardboard box, or an old tattered tent. And some of the encampments were huge–fifteen, twenty, or more boxes, lean-tos, torn tents, and tarp covered shopping carts. The size varied. The building materials were always the same. And the squalor always the same.

Every time I could get their attention in time, I would point these encampments out. I wanted them to see how many there were. I wanted them to understand that homelessness is not uncommon. It is everywhere. I had already pointed them out to Lo on the way to Kasen’s house. She and I had already talked about it when silliness was not so rampant. But even in the midst of this epic silliness, they both quieted down and looked. After two or three encampments, Kasen looked at me and said, “Cece, my eyes have tears when I see them.” This little guy might be super silly but he is also super sensitive. He really did have tears in his eyes.

No easy explanation or answer

How do you explain homelessness to a five and six year old. I settled for the very basics. These people are homeless for many different reasons. There are things that cause people to be homeless that they have no control over. They have done nothing wrong. Sometimes others have done very wrong things to them. Some of the people are homeless because they have made poor choices.  And for some, it is a combination of both. But, once they are homeless it is very difficult to get out of the predicament. I told them about two homeless people that I know and how very different their circumstances are. We also talked about ways we can help them. Being kind to them and acknowledging them being a couple of the main ways. The kids suggested buying them food, or giving them money to buy food. I did not try to qualify this kindness. Then Kasen dropped a small bomb. He suggested we could invite them to live with us. Well now there’s a five-year-old’s discussion stopper even for a crazy grama. I have had this thought before–taking homeless in. Oh that it could and would be only as hard as that. And that is very hard. I did a very poor job of qualifying this kindness.

Easy lesson: be thankful

It was time to wrap this lesson up. The homeless education ended with talking about all the things Kaso and Lo have that they need to be very thankful for. I suggested that they need to remember how blessed they are and try not to complain so much. They both have two loving parents, nice homes where they are safe and warm, and where they have their own private bedrooms. I asked them what else they had to be thankful for. They responded by listing cars, nice clothes, food, and toys, of course. Yes. I affirmed. Most homeless people do not have any of these things. And, I told them how fortunate they were that even if something ever happened where either of them lost their homes, they both have family and friends that could and would give them a place to live in a heartbeat. This crazy grama included.

So the train adventure ended a little less silly and a little more quiet. It was getting dark as we pulled into North Station in San Clemente. Papa was there to pick us up. Mission accomplished. A train adventure for LoLo and Kaso completed. Check it off the list of promises to the granz. And a little lesson in compassion to top it off. Gramasylum is a crazy place where the very silly and the very serious live side by side. Part of why it works for me.


A Train Adventure

If this story doesn’t once and for all certify me as a crazy grandmother, nothing will.

Making good on a promise

We had talked about it for a long time. The metro and Amtrak lines go right past our house and a stop is right at the pier where we live. And just a mile down the beach is another station with even more stops.  Wouldn’t it be fun, we thought, to take the kids on the train sometime? We kept telling Kasen and Laurel, “Sometime we will get you, LoLo, and then  take the train to your house, Kaso, and then all come back to Cece’s house on the train.” It was time to make good on this promise. Well, we didn’t end up doing it. Just me did. Crazy.

A logistic challenge

Given that one grandchild lives two and a half hours north and the other an hour south, there was no easy solution. We had given them another experience gift for their July birthdays this year—a trip to The Pirate’s Dinner Adventure. Just getting the tickets right was a major undertaking—another blog later about this! Kasen and Laurel both start school next week so it seemed to be now or never.

Train travel not for sissies

The train schedule is primarily for commuters. And understanding the schedules and the lines and the times and ways is not for sissies. There are early trains and late trains, not much in the middle. In order to make this work, we had to take a very early train.  And there is no train that goes all the way. Both directions would require a transfer at Union Station in downtown Los Angeles.  It would require two different trains up and back. One leg would be Amtrak while the other three would  be Metrolink. I told you it was not for sissies. Our son brought LoLo to our house Thursday afternoon which helped the time and logistics a great deal.

The other part of we, Papa, though he did not go on the train adventure, he did help. He got up and drove us to the other train station at 5:15 a.m. to catch a 5:36 a.m. train. I purchased the tickets and Papa saw us off to make sure we were on our way. The adventure was about to begin.

I was surprised LoLo did not go right back to sleep. I could have. But I think she was excited enough that she stayed awake for a while. About an hour in, it was still pretty dark and I saw her yawning. I had her lay down with her head on my lap on a pillow I had brought along just in case. Sure enough, she was asleep in minutes and slept the rest of the way to Union Station. It was okay. I knew we would have a lot of time to see things on the second leg of the trip.

I knew I didn’t like freight trains

While she was sleeping the Metro train was delayed two different times due to freight trains on the tracks. I knew we only had about twenty minutes to catch our connecting train from Union Station to Moorpark. The thought crossed my mind, briefly, that these delays could cause us to miss our connection. I put the thought out as quickly as I could. Being the eternal optimist I am, I allowed hope to stay alive as long as possible. I woke Lo the second time we were delayed by a freight train. We were just outside of Union Station. It was now 7:26 a.m. Our Amtrak connection was scheduled to leave at 7:35 a.m. We had nine minutes. I still hoped but a whole lot of praying was going on as we sat and waited. Finally, the train engineer came on the loudspeaker, apologized for the wait and said we were headed in to the station. It was 7:29 a.m. Hope was getting thin.

I prepared Lo for a fast transfer. We had everything in hand and headed down to the train exit doors so that we could step out immediately. I told her that we might miss the train so we had to walk very fast. When we got off the train it was 7:36 a.m. We walked as fast as we could along the track and down the stairs and found the first overhead monitor showing train schedules. Our Amtrak 761 was not on the screen. I cornered the first Union Station employee I could find and although I was quite sure I knew the answer, I asked it anyway. “Amtrak 761 to Moorpark?” I asked with a look of hope on my face that suggested this man could be a miracle-working employee and still get us on that train. It was 7:39 a.m. He looked at me and with an amazing amount of empathy said, “I am sorry. That train just left.” We had missed the train by four minutes. Four minutes.

Time to make a choice

Choices were running through my head. Option one, drop to the floor and have a meltdown. Option two, standing there right in the middle of Union Station with all the people going in every direction, and cry softly. Third option, make it an adventure. The child in me voted for the first option. The moderately dignified but seriously disappointed adult wanted the second option. The crazy grama in me won out. Lo and I would make this an adventure. Hope still alive, I thought there must be another train to get us where we needed to be. I just hoped we would not have to wait four hours to get on it! We still had to take the trains back home the same night!

The non-miracle working but empathetic Union Station employee directed us to the Amtrak ticket counter to see what they could do for us. They did a lot. Because of the train delays they transferred our ticket purchase to a Metrolink train. But we could not get to our Moorpark by train anymore. But we could get close. They got us on the next Metro train to Simi Valley, fifteen minutes from Moorpark, and refunded us three dollars. My daughter who lives in Moorpark would pick us up at the Simi Valley station. We had an hour and fifteen-minute wait, not four hours, so I decided we would have breakfast in Union Station and make the most of it. Looking on the bright side, my refund paid for coffee. The train adventure was still on.

We ate breakfast, watched people, and I even found a nice birthday gift for a friend. Who knew you could shop at Union Station? And, this time I made sure we were on the train platform well before departure time. I also made it a point to ask three different people what the train number and destination was of the train we were waiting to board. Then when we got on the train, I asked one other very smart looking business man, again. No time for error anymore.  All four assured me we were on Metro 763 headed for Simi Valley.

Hope wins out

True to plan B my daughter picked us up at the Simi Valley station. We arrived in Moorpark and we still had six hours to play before we would have to head back to the train station to return to San Clemente.  This time with cousin Kasen along for the train ride. But this crazy grama story is too long for one blog. Stay tuned. Next week, part two of the train adventure. Hard to believe, but It gets crazier. Just look at the toothy grins!



I Told On Myself

Kasen and Jenna were coming to spend three days with Cece and Papa before the whole extended family converged for the annual Blankman Birthday Extravaganza on Saturday July 29.  I love taking my grandchildren to fun new places.  We have our favorites that we return to over and over again, of course. But once in a while, I like to surprise them with a new adventure. I had Googled “kids activities in Orange County” a couple of years ago and found Pretend City, but we had not gone there yet. This week would be the week. It was only about thirty minutes away so it would make for a perfect morning outing. Kasen at five and Jenna at three seemed to be the right ages based on the website’s description. We were all excited.

GPS doesn’t tell you everything

The problem with these new adventures is that the territory and context is unfamiliar. Thanks to GPS these days, finding the location is pretty easy. But even with this technology the exact location can be a challenge. It actually took us less time than I had planned to arrive. But this particular venue was in an industrial park and the building numbers do not all  face the street identified with their location. So even though the GPS said we had arrived, we could not see the place. Let’s just say we drove around the industrial park a bit before we found it. The next challenge and frequently a formidable one at these popular places was finding parking. And, with small children in tow how far away you park definitely makes a big difference, for Grama Cece as much as for the littles! Let’s just say we drove around some more.

What do they have against Pretend City

There was a lot of parking in the industrial park area. But every space had a sign that said, “No Pretend City Parking.” I am not exaggerating. It was painted on the asphalt in each space and upright signs were posted everywhere. It seemed as though Pretend City was on the outs with the industrial park. I could not find any parking spaces identified for Pretend City.  Let’s just say our excitement was being challenged. The kiddos were asking, “Cece, why are we driving around so long?” I was saying the same thing to myself with a few other choice words interspersed!

I finally drove back out to the street where we came in. It would be a longer walk for us if we parked on the street but perhaps  only a block or two. I was so pleased when right near the building entrance there was a parking spot just waiting for us. Well, there was half of a parking space waiting for us. You know how this happens. Those people who park a half a car away from the car in front of them and leave only a half of a parking space behind them? That is the one space I found. I drove all the way to the end of the street, a dead end, and all of the signs said,  you guessed it,  “No Pretend City parking.” I was about ready to head back home. But knowing the wailing and gnashing of teeth that would result I decided to persevere. I parked in the half spot. It was very close to the entrance so we went in and I asked the man behind the desk if he thought I was at risk for a ticket because I was parked half way on the red curb. Let’s just say he was not enthusiastic in his encouragement of my parking there. I couldn’t keep it in any longer. I tried to explain in a calm and adult voice, but as I got farther into my story I got whinier and my voice more child-like as I described how long we had been driving around without finding a single Pretend City parking space.

Getting near the edge

The gentleman could tell I was on the verge of a breakdown and he could see that two small children were in my care. He became very attentive and told me it was okay. There was Pretend City parking in the industrial park but that it was a little hard to find and a pretty long walk. Really?! I hadn’t noticed! He added quickly that there was a golf cart shuttle that would pick us up and bring us to the front door and take us back to our car when we were ready to leave. Ok. I took a deep breath, found my adult voice again, and asked for directions. You know this man could see how at risk these children were. He actually walked me out to our car and pointed to the entrance to the parking lot just ahead of where we were parked on the street. “Right there,” he said. “Turn in right there, and just keep going. It is in the very back of the parking lot, but I will call the golf cart to come and get you,” he reassured me. He must have known he had just walked me back from the edge of despair.

Crazy impulse

Kasen and Jenna and I walked back to the car parked in the half parking spot on the street. The entrance to the parking lot where we were headed was just ahead a few car lengths away just as the gentleman said it was. I knew that we would be driving in a parking lot most of the time and so I made a decision based on fatigue, frustration, and being near the edge, primarily. I told Jenna and Kasen to just get in the front seat of the car together. They both looked at me like I was crazy. They did not exactly protest. They just asked to be sure they heard correctly what I was saying. “You mean we do not have to get in our car seats,” they asked incredulously? “No,” I said. This is where my confession begins. I am telling on myself.  I did not put them in their car seats. I did not buckle them in. My two precious grandchildren were riding in the front seat of my car through the parking lot. I mean, we were going two miles an hour and driving through a parking lot for about two minutes. But all the while I knew I was in trouble. These kinds of escapades always get revealed. I could just hear Jenna and Kasen telling their parents, “Grama Cece let us ride in the front of the car!” The parents would have no context about the length or the distance or the reason or how close I was to a breakdown. It would just be the thrill of their precious children telling them that they were in Cece’s car free of car seats and restraints. I was in BIG trouble.

Telling on myself

So, I made the only decision I could to minimize the damages. I hoped that my record of careful and safe care of my grandchildren would come to bear in the big reveal. But I was going to be the one to do the revealing, not a three and five-year old thrilled with the freedom of the front seat. As soon as the parents showed up on Friday night, I told on myself. I said it straight and simple. I confessed. I didn’t even go in to the whole story of all the signs and spaces prohibiting parking for Pretend City. I just made it clear I had driven around as long as my grama craziness could tolerate and then I cracked when I realized the one parking spot I found was not going to work. I cracked. I put the two kids in the front seat and drove to the new parking space. Kids smiling the whole way and crazy Grama Cece already rehearsing in her mind this confession. I knew it would not be met with enthusiasm but I hoped it would be met with grace. It was. They survived the ordeal. I survived the confession. Pretend City parking almost did me in. Gramasylum is the perfect place for me.

Hair Twirlers

An amazing gift

I am in the final hours of an amazing gift. Since Wednesday just after lunch we have been taking care of Frankie our number five grandchild. Number five in birth order only. They are all number one in my heart. Since I waited nine years for the first one, I was so love struck I thought I would never be able to love another one as much. Wrong. After LoLo arrived in July of 2011, we lost Elijah six months into the pregnancy in August of the same year. We still think about him every day. Then Kaso arrived in July 2012. Jenna showed up in August 2014. Coco entered the love craziness in July 2015.

Departure and arrival times change

Frankie had to find a way to make a grand entrance. She did. She was due in August 2016. I was boarding a plane at Dulles Airport on Saturday July 16, departing for Malawi, Africa, for two weeks. Plenty of time to return on the 31st and be here for Frankie’s projected arrival date of August 20. As I was looking for my seat number I got a call from my husband Drew. Anne was on her way to the hospital. It looked like Frankie was showing up early. I turned around and headed out of the plane and back up the jetway.

I tell people this story all the time and they say, “How could you do that?! They don’t let people off planes once boarding begins.” They let me off! Maybe it was the look on my face. Maybe it was my loud and firm proclamation that I had a family emergency. Who knows? I de-boarded without being dragged or handcuffed. Once off, a wonderfully helpful United employee found me a flight back to LA less than an hour later. I made it to LA in the early afternoon and went right to the hospital. Long story short. . . Frankie waited another four days to make her grand entrance. She was born on July 20, 2016 at 9:30 pm. She was five weeks early but weighed in at five and a half pounds, so she was going to be okay. I was not going to Africa. I was here when Frankie was born. Would not have wanted it any other way. I had thoughts of naming her Frances Malawi Bollman. The parents did not have the same thoughts. Frances Grace Bollman was here. Grace means gift. She is a gift. Her parents entrusting her to us for several days another gift.

This is a test

So, after waiting nine years, I had five grandchildren five and under. Four of them born in July! Little Jenna made her mark by claiming August—my birth month. But Frankie was in the NICU for about ten or eleven days. Let’s just say being a first baby and a preemie makes for a little closer oversight in parenting. This is partly why these past four days have been such a gift. Frankie is doing great now. But the first three or four months were very hard for my daughter and son-in-law and for Frankie.  I have helped with her at her house a few days since she was born. But the fact that they would trust us with her for four days when she is only ten months old is a real gift. Ok. We were “tested” about a month ago. They came down for a sleepover and went out for dinner while I put Frankie to bed. Frankie and I both passed the test. I got her down without incident and she slept fine all night. The May four-day rendezvous was a go!

Back to hair twirlers–serious ones

Oh. I digress. This blog is about hair twirlers. What I discovered taking care of Frankie this long is that she is “one of us.” She is a Davis—my maiden name.  We are a family of hair twirlers. I am a hair twirler. Only casual, though. My hair is perfectly straight. Not a bend in sight. But my sister, Kathy, is a serious hair twirler. We were only sixteen months apart so we spent a lot of time together. Growing up she was always twirling her hair. When we palled around our grade school years, she was twirling her hair. When I visited her in college, she was twirling her hair. After we were both married with children. When we lived in the same town for five years and were at each other’s houses all the time, she was always twirling her hair. She is a breast cancer survivor. When I visited in the hospital during her surgery she was twirling her hair. This was before chemo and she lost it all. But, you get the idea. This is what I mean by serious hair twirler. She has curly hair. I think it is from a lifetime of twirling.

Frankie, from what I can tell these four days, will have curly hair, too. She, like my sister Kathy, is serious about hair twirling. You can see for yourself in this picture. I think this must be a genetic marker. If I was a little younger I might seek a PhD in human hair habits. But I would rather spend the time with my granz, watching them and learning that way. No PhD for me.  When I take leave, I will be certified CG—Crazy Grama.

No  need to get creeped out

I know what some of you are thinking. Cute in little kids, but a little weird for adults, no? For those of you who are not hair twirlers, it’s about the feel. Though time and the elements can do a number on the texture of your exposed hair, even well into adulthood, the under-side of  the hair on the head is very soft and silky. This is why we twirl it. Carefully wrapping a chunk of hair around your forefinger–twirling it–then pushing the small twirl with the tip of your thumb, exposes soft and silky strands. Ahhhhhh. Such pleasure. Those of you who are not hair twirlers and getting creeped out about now. Not to worry. This is all there is to it. Just an innocent and life-long joy of twirling hair. For a ten-month old, it’s all soft and silky. Frankie can twist anywhere on her head and it is so soft.

No end to the craziness

These past four days with Frankie have been such a gift. Because my daughter and son-in-law gave us the opportunity, because Frankie is so full of life and has many unique ways of being in addition to the hair twirling, because I can see the Davis in her, it has been pure joy. They have done such a good job of raising her these ten months she was easy to have. And, because this is Gramasylum there is no end to the crazy love and the crazy fun.

What little patterns of behavior make your family unique and bring fun and joy? Tell us about it in the comments below.


Will You Look At That?!

Mini flash mob photo shoot

Will you look at that?! Four of five grandchildren, all lined up on the couch, all looking in the same direction, none crying, though the one second from the left was sobbing just minutes before. She had flown off a spinning chair and caught the back of her head on the corner of the coffee table in front of the chair. Let’s just say the size and shape of the knot warranted some wailing! If you look closely, she is a little sad looking and if you look even closer you can see I am using my arm behind her neck to hold an ice pack against the knot on the back of her head. Talk about multi-tasking!  Back to the line-up.

The book is the magic

Why did I not think of this at Easter time? These children ranging in age from not quite two to not quite six are all very content and focused in this picture. The book, Cece, the book! It’s about the book. They all love books. They are magic. They especially love books that they can manipulate or search and find things in. Where is Waldo, and Cars and Trucks and Things That Go are two all-time favorites. This particular book highlights the alphabet with objects and animals that start with all the different letters.  Even the youngest already knows the alphabet. She can sing it from A to Z. The older ones love to show how much they know by naming all the objects and animals in the book. And this book has over 100 words with picture flaps. When you open the flap, a picture of a monkey turns into a picture of a monkey eating a banana. Or, a bird sitting on a wire turns into a bird hanging on by one toe with feathers flying everywhere. All four kids love to open the flaps and name what is different. The older ones have the book memorized and declare what is inside the flap before the little ones can even get it open. Cece tries to moderate the older ones enthusiasm so as not to steal the joy of discovery for the little ones. Not always successful. And, it requires a little grand parental management to make sure they all take turns opening the flaps. But the joy of participating actively in the exploration of the book moderates the “me monster” tendencies they all can exhibit.

One little monkey sitting on my lap

It started with one grandchild in a chair. She brought me the book and wanted me to “read it” with her. Then a second child, the smallest one, came over and said, “Up, up, Cece, up.” We made room for her in the chair—one child on each leg. Suddenly two others showed up. LoLo and Kaso wanted in on the gig. No legs left, and the chair would not accommodate them all. So, I negotiated moving to the couch where we could all sit together and read the book. Suddenly, without drama, and within seconds all four of them were lined up on the couch. All four were focused on the book. Wow! Why did I not think of this a month ago? It took almost an hour to get them all in this pose! Of course, they were not all dressed the same in this one, but who cares. And, we were missing the littlest of the munchkins. She had other relatives visiting (how dare they!) and could not be with us this day. But she is only ten months old. She is not quite reading yet. She likes books but mostly to eat them. However, by next year she will be the age of the youngest one in this picture, so I just may have may Easter photo solution. I will see if they want to “read a book!” It’s genius if I do say so myself. And maybe I can find a fun Easter book to top it off!

Love is the bomb

One problem remains. Cece is in the picture. That has not been my plan for photo shoots with the kiddos. Somehow the little ones together by themselves is so precious.  But this did not start as a photo shoot. I did not plan it or organize it. Jenna wanted Cece to read a book with her. She did not want mommy or daddy. She wanted me. Then Coco wanted to sit with me. Other adults available, but she wanted to sit with me. The older two, who can almost read books on their own wanted to sit with me. How can I refuse this kind of affection and attention? Move to the couch. Get them all tucked as close as possible and begin reading the book. For this, I will photo bomb! I did not ask anyone to take the picture. I was simply soaking up the love while it lasted. It lasted a while. Others noticed and started snapping pictures. We got to the end of the alphabet and did not skip a single page. Every page with lots of pictures and over 100 pictures with flaps and we looked at every one! Four grandchildren taking turns. They each got to open more than 25 of the flaps. It was a glorious time! It was a Kodak moment…well an IPhone moment, anyway!

Don’t wait for holidays

The proof is in the picture. No matter how old I look. No matter how out of place I am in the line-up. It is pure love that creates these moments. I am so crazy about these kids and these moments, I will be in any picture with them that anyone is willing and able to take. I just hope I remember this trick next year at Easter. Crazy Cece is also forgetful Cece. Or maybe we’ll just start taking them all year round. Why wait for holidays to take pictures? I will accommodate and cherish every time they want to sit with me and read books. One is bound to fall around Easter time! Gramasylum is the best!

A Little Pre-Easter Miracle

I consider it my own private little pre-Easter miracle. Two weeks ago, April 9, this blog posted a picture of my grandchildren’s Easter outfits all lined up on the couch waiting for the little bodies to fill them up. Look at this photo, will you?! I know. It isn’t perfect and they are not looking at the camera. Give me some slack! It’s coming. Sort of.

I remembered how hard it was last year  to get four of them dressed, lined up, and looking in the right direction long enough to get the picture. You can also see this foursome picture in the post from April 9. Last year we had the whole weekend. This year we only had about eight hours to get the job done. And, now there were five of them, the youngest one is not quite nine months old! I am an eternal optimist, relentlessly hopeful. And this crazy grama is hard to discourage. However, time and experience has moderated my optimism some. And the deeper value of not wanting to spend important family time being disappointed or bitter over a missed photo caused me to dig deep and prepare for the reality that the picture might not happen. The challenges are real and many. And in the mid-morning hours it looked doubtful. But a crazy grama can try, right?


Getting five children under the age of six, all awake at the same time when two are still nappers is a challenge all its own.  They go to bed at different times. They wake up at different times, and let’s just say they are in varying stages of cooperative spirit. Just about the time the older ones have played long enough and can be coaxed to allow Cece to take their picture, the younger ones are ready for a nap!


Then there is the challenge of getting them all to put the outfits on.  Three of them are old enough now to have opinions about what they do and do not want to wear. I took a crazy gamble when I bought these outfits without consulting them. And actually, the second to the youngest, only twenty-one months old is quite capable of resisting getting dressed at all! Ditto for the not quite nine-month old. Two resisters out of five mean that this dressing up project is no cake walk. Further complicating the challenge is that most of them still want Cece to do this kind of thing for them.  Usually, this pleases me to no end and I love that they want me to do things for them. However, when trying to get a group photo and having so many other challenges to overcome, having to dress all five of them is not only not very pleasing, it is almost impossible in the time frame given. The other adults in the experience were having coffee and conversation and passing through the dressing room chaos offering all sorts of advice like, “Mom, we can do this later.” “Mom, is it really worth it?” Two problems. We were not doing this. I was. There was little assistance in the dressing department. And, worth it? I was already half way to the goal–two-and-a-half little bodies dressed, two-and-a-half to go. There was no turning back now. Nope. The craziness of Gramasylum cannot be exhausted.  I think I dressed all of them. I have no idea how long this took but long enough to elicit another challenge–getting them all in the mood to take a picture.

Smiling . . . Well Not Crying

I am not so crazy that I would expect excitement and five full-on smiles for this picture. I was simply hoping for no tears or pouty faces. Well, that, too is a challenge with this group at their ages and when they are together. They run non-stop. They play crazy games jumping on and off surfaces. So of course, there are injuries. And, though there are eight million toys and books and things to play with in our home, two of them often want the same thing at the same time. There are arguments. These children might look like angels but they can be little devils. They can be smiling and laughing one minute and in utter despair and hysteronics the next. So, just when they are all dressed ready to try and herd onto the couch for the miraculous Easter picture, one of them falls running down the hallway and skins her knee on the hall carpet. No smiles from this one for the next two hours. I got her knee all kissed up, and wiped away the tears, but there would be no smiles from this one. Another one doing cartwheels around the furniture miscalculates and bangs her leg on the coffee table. Though a very small wound releases a very small amount of blood, full triage is required. Stop everything. Clean the wound. Find a band aid and apply. “No, not that way,” says the bleeding child. Cece further relinquishes hope. This one awake and dressed will also likely be without smiles. The photo opp seems to be slowly but surely slipping through my crazy fingers.

I do not have time or words adequate to describe the morning meltdown of one of the cherubs. Let’s just say that even though the little one finally stopped crying, by that time almost everyone else was. Miracle within a miracle, this little one actually ended up very neutral in countenance. Kudos especially to her mom–a regular miracle worker. All this would make even the most determined grandmother-in-hopes-of-an-Easter-picture give up. Not this one. I call it Gramasylum for a reason. Crazy Cece forged ahead with the plan.

Lined Up

All awake, all dressed, all at least neutral in facial expression, now the challenge was to get them all lined up on the couch. Most of you know how this works. Three lined up and one has to go potty. Two lined up. Four lined up and one slides sideways out of the range of the camera—the one not quite able to sit on her own yet. Three lined up. Cece enlists the oldest to place her arm around the waist of the youngest to help hold her steady and stay in the photo. Four lined up again and one sneezes and has less than picture perfect things hanging from their nose and dripping down the lips. Pause to wipe nose and face. Three lined up. While doing so another one slips off the couch to get something they dropped on the floor. Only two lined up. It goes on and on. Finally, all five littles, awake, dressed, faces bright or at least neutral (no one screaming or crying) and all lined up on the couch. I hear someone shout, suprisingly it wasn’t me, “Get the phone cameras flashing for goodness sake! Hurry!” Six adults. One herding small children to stay lined up on the couch. Five getting camera phones ready and flashing. But one challenge remains. Getting all five looking in the right direction. Wait. There are five cameras. Where should they look? (I actually love the picture at the top of this blog, caught just before grama antics commenced to get them all looking in the same direction.)


Looking in the General Direction

Crazy Grama to the rescue. I stand front and center and make the silliest faces and the weirdest noises—all things these children are accustomed to—and, voila! All five awake, dressed, lined up, and at least not crying, and all looking in the sort of general direction of the clicking camera phones. Whew! We did it! It is our own little pre-Easter miracle. Proof is in the untouched photo below.


After this year’s little miracle, I do have to ask this question: Why do this? Too late, of course, to reflect on for this year. But there is always next year. A better question is, given this year’s little miracle, do I want to risk it all again. Can or should I expect this each year? Are all the challenges and resulting stress and chaos worth it? Is the picture worth that much? I have an idea. Maybe I can take individual pictures of each child when they are at their best—up and eager to get dressed and wanting to please Cece with a smile for a picture. Then I could have some tech savvy person photo shop them all sitting sweetly side by side on my couch. Picture perfect! Not real, but perfect. Sounds crazy but I think I prefer the adrenaline rush chaos and the resulting less than perfect picture. A real one. After all, my real world is crazy. I choose to live here. Gramasylum suits me. And as long as my littles keep coming the craziness will prevail.

If you have crazy chaotic granz pictures share them with your comments below.

Just Waiting for the Little Bodies

We are ready

There you have it! The dresses and shirt and pants for Easter Sunday for all the Blankman grandkids are all lined up just waiting for their adorable little bodies. The vision and hope is for four girls and one boy all dressed up with somewhere to go–Easter Sunday worship. Last year I shopped for Easter clothes and we got a picture of all of them all lined up on the couch in their matching outfits. I crazy love this picture of them together.

We did it last year

From left to right: Jenna, Laurel, Kasen, and Colette. Worked last year! But we have added one this year. Frances was born in July. I went ahead and shopped for Easter outfits again this year. It remains to be seen whether we can pull this off, or, I should say, pull these on! We’ll see whether or not the line up will be complete with all five of them dressed and lined up.

It requires a miracle

Getting them all here, at Cece and Papa’s house at the same time is one hurdle. Then getting them all dressed in these particular outfits at the same time is a second hurdle. Nappers can throw a wrench in the plans at any time. However, even if they are all awake, the final hurdle is the most challenging. It’s a tantamount to herding cats. Somehow we must get them all in a the same picture perfect space, get them all looking in the right direction, hopefully get them all smiling; well, at least not any of  them crying. All this requires a miracle. But of course, Easter is all about miracles. I am a believer, so I believe we can do it! Although, I think someone might have used Easter baskets as a bribe.

Why is one dress not like the other

If you are a close observer, you noticed one of the dresses in the lead picture is not the same as the other three. Aha! There is a reason for that. A good reason. After I had spent several hours shopping and picking out the new dresses with little matching sweaters, and a nice shirt and pant set for my handsome Kaso, I sent a picture of the clothes to the moms. I did this to let them know that they did not have to shop for Easter clothes if they did not want to. Crazy Cece had taken care of it early. They were all grateful. One glitch, however. One of the little girls already had this dress. Whaaaat?! Yes. This. Very. Same. Dress. Doh!

There was no way that I had time to start shopping all over again. So, using FaceTime now, and with the help of her mommie, we shopped for one new and different dress for little Jenna–the one who already had this dress. I wasn’t taking the chance and getting it wrong twice! Jenna would still get a new dress. But, for picture cuteness perfection, and total Gramasylum craziness she would  have to wear the old  one on Easter! No getting around it. She would get the new little sweater but she would wear the old dress–the one that would match with all the other little girls. That is of course, if we can get them all dressed up and lined up and looking up at the same time!

It’s crazy wonderful

I know. It’s crazy. But by now you know that is exactly where I live and where I want to be. Admit it. Your little loves make you crazy, too. There is no better way to be! Stay tuned for the 2017 Blankman Easter Beautiful Granz Line Up. You will see it. I believe in miracles. It’s crazy wonderful.

Do you have pictures of your granz dressed alike for special occasions? Send them to me at and I will post them here at Gramasylum!