Wednesday, December 16, 2009

In Loving Memory of Max Winters, My Grandpa

Today the world lost one of its very best, but it is undoubtedly, a happy day in heaven.  In loving memory of the original "Pop Pop" here is a poem I wrote just a couple months ago when we celebrated his 90th birthday. 

Things that My Grandfather Taught Me

My grandfather taught me at an early age to love the words upon the page.
The sounds they make all joined together make a music no man can tether.
The tinkling of words that rhyme and sing create a joy nothing else can bring.
The joy of writing my grandfather gave is a precious gift I’ll always save.

My grandfather taught me at an early age to love performing on a stage.
There’s nothing like it if you’re shy to put on the costume of some other guy
And ham it up before a crowd; the laughter and applause, it makes you proud.
My grandpa taught me you can never feel small when standing before a curtain call.

My grandfather taught me at an early age to be proud of my Polish heritage.
So I flew across the Atlantic Sea, flying over England, past Germany
To the land from where the Wisniewskis came-- my life would never be the same
For after my feet touched that Baltic sand, I fell in love with that Polish land.

My grandfather taught me all along that there are things more important than stage or song.
That sometimes you must use your gifts, not for the bright lights of show business,
But to serve the Lord through worship and prayer for His love is beautiful and rare,
And so dearer to me than anything, is the peace and grace that faith can bring.

My grandfather taught me along with this that true love really does exist.
With a tender kiss and a touch of the hand, they shared something great with that wedding band.
To see the love between those two, even greater at eighty than at twenty-two,
I knew if I wanted to get married someday, my grandparents would be the models to light my way.

My grandfather has taught me a lot of things with the wisdom that ninety years can bring.
But there is one lesson that stands out above them all; it is written in bold upon the wall:
More important than travel or poetry is the love that you show to your family.
When my grandfather would hold me in his cuddly arms, I knew that the world would do me no harm
Because he taught me that there is nothing greater than the love that comes from my Polish grand-pater.

Ja cie kocham, Dziadek.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

The Enchantment of Books

Few things thrill me more than the look of absolute delight that appears on Finny’s face when I pick up a book he loves. He grins widely and lays his head back on my shoulder waiting for the show to begin. When we get to the part he really loves, he giggles a little and sometimes even takes the boomie out of his mouth so that he can grin just a little wider.

We started reading books together from a very young age when Finny was only weeks old. I would lay him upright on my propped up knees and read him Eric Carle’s The Very Grouchy Ladybug. At that point his eyes were still crossed and he could do little but squirm and wriggle and beg for milk, but he always listened intently to the story of the classic battle for tiny green aphids and that ladybug who just couldn’t find the right guy to pick a fight with.

I’m not quite sure what Finny got out of books at that age, but everything you read tells you to read, read, read to your babies early and often, and I didn’t want to miss an opportunity to infect him with the contagious love of a great story.

As Finny got bigger and could begin to focus not only his eyes but his attention, it was such fun to see that he actually had preferences for certain books and aversions to others. Early on, Guess How Much I Love You, a personal favorite of mine, couldn’t quite hold his attention, but he never turned down an opportunity to hear about kitten and mittens and mush in Margaret Wise’s Goodnight, Moon. David once asked, “What is it about Goodnight, Moon? What makes it so special? Why is the old woman a rabbit? And why say goodnight to nobody?”

Maybe it has something to do with the rhythm of her words, the slow, sleepy bedtime ritual of saying goodnight to simply everything and nothing. That room is so great and so green—hardly anyone uses that paint color in bedrooms anymore. And that fire is so red and full and cozy, if not a little hazardous since it is left burning all night in the baby rabbit’s bedroom.

Maybe for Finny though, it has little to do with rabbits or mush or bears in chairs. Maybe it’s just that he simply loves pointing to the moon. He looks for it on every page and points it out every time. Whether arced or full, he knows the moon’s face and loves to find it in the nighttime sky.

As Finny has gotten older he has started to appreciate rhyme and illustration more and more and with that came a love for Sandra Boynton. Pajama Time, The Going to Bed Book, What’s Wrong Little Pookie?—he loves them all. And so does David. “I would marry Sandra Boynton,” David once remarked, “She’s so clever and silly and has such good, fun illustrations. Now she knows how to write a book.” And so, without fail, if David is in charge of bedtime, you can bet you’ll hear “Jammy, jammy, jammy, jammy P.J.!” echoing out of the monitor on the kitchen counter.

For a while there, Finny wanted nothing to do with a story that didn’t have a flap to lift and tear, and so we read a lot of Karen Katz and Peekaboo, Blueberry!, and I spent a lot of time with my roll of Scotch tape. Then it was sounds. He loved anything with a button to press again and again and again and again.

As the reader, I occasionally get bored with the same old books and try to throw a new one in from time to time, but much like his daddy, Finny is a tough critic. Sometimes I make it through the first few words, sometimes the first few pages, sometimes I don’t get a chance to open the book at all before Finny is slamming it shut, pushing it away and pointing to a familiar story he loves. Then, when I pick up The Big Red Barn or The Eensy Weensy Spider Finny lays his head back and grins.

Lately, I know he must be growing up because more and more he’s allowing me to read him a new story. Although hesitant at first, now he can’t get enough of Totty by Paola Opal, and every time the turtle goes “Splash! Yippie!” Finny laughs as if he too knows what fun it is to slide down a hill of sand in a turtle shell. I’ve also been able to get through Green Eggs and Ham from beginning to end, and today he wouldn’t let me read anything but Hi, Pizza Man!, which we read five times before I couldn’t take it anymore and laid him down for his nap. (David asks, “What’s so special about Hi, Pizza Man!? I don’t like that the cat is wearing a dress.”)

There is something enchanting about a great story, something magical about being taken out of your world and transplanted into the world of the book. It’s wonderful that old women can be rabbits, that kitty cats can dress in pearl necklaces, that hippos sometimes exercise with lions, and that gorillas sometimes follow the zookeeper home at night and snuggle up between him and his wife. I hope that Finny’s world is full of fun and adventure and silliness and play, but when it’s not, when it’s cold and rainy and we’ve played with all the toys in the toy box too many times, I hope that Finny always finds the joy and enchantment that comes with the world of a storybook, and I hope as long as possible that he’ll sit on my lap and let me go there with him.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Spaghetti Monster

In future, Finny will be eating spaghetti in the nude.  Perhaps even in an empty bathtub.  That way, when he finishes I can just hose him down.  Apparently, he's a maniac when he sees a plate of spaghetti.  I couldn't put it on his tray fast enough.  I put some down, he shoved it in his face, and then he pointed at the plate and demanded more, more, faster, faster!

It became pretty apparent from watching this crazed baby that we have been watching far too much Sesame Street.  Much like Cookie Monster, who pretends to eat cookies but really just smashes 'em up in his face and lets the entire cookie fall to the floor in pieces, Finny would grab a handful of spaghetti and then rub it all over his face letting the majority fall all over his bib, his lap, and of course, the floor.

It was truly a sight.  So much so that I took a video.  Follow this link to see Finny in action:


O Tannenbaum!

As his mother and personal secretary, I am supposed to keep a record of Finny’s many firsts. The problem is he won’t slow down long enough to give me a chance to keep track. On Wednesday, November 18, he took his first steps, just twelve days shy of fourteen months old, and it seems that now that he’s a big shot walker, he’s also a big shot talker.

I could tell you for sure what his first legitimate word was: “Dah Dah!” Always said with full tongue and teeth, accompanied by a smile and followed by an exclamation point. He definitely knows who his Dah Dah is, but sometimes we question whether he thinks Ma Ma is Dah Dah too. Either that or he is already capable of mocking me, which I’d rather choose not to believe.

As far as his second word goes, it’s hard to say because suddenly sounds are spilling out of his mouth so fast I can hardly catch them. When I refer to words here, they are not words in the complete word sense. All sounds are not present at speaking. But they are sounds that get so close to the actual word that we have achieved understanding.

“Daw!” he says when he sees a dog. “Baw!” he says when he sees a ball. “Juh!” he says when he sees his cousin Jane. “Joe!” last night when he pointed continuously to a picture of David’s Aunt Joanne. “Dri!” when he wants a drink, which is always followed by a look of self-satisfaction when he is presented with his cup. Then he takes a one-handed slug out of it and hurls it across the room.

Perhaps the most common word of all though, the one that is clearest, most frequent, and second only to Dah Dah, is:


Driving in the car, he points, “Tree! Tree! Tree!” Playing in the family room, looking out at the yard, he points, “Tree! Tree! Tree!” And now, he is enticed day and night by that glowing Tannenbaum in the corner which grows toys right out of its branches, so whenever we pass by the living room, he points, “Tree! Tree! Tree!”

I think it is quite fitting, Little Finny, that your first word is tree. I think it means you’re going to love the outdoors like your Mama. We will take many hikes in the woods and you will love the beauty of the sunlit shadows that a canopy of trees creates as it sprinkles tiny jewels of light across the path. You will love the fresh, clean smell of the trees and the leaves and the occasional brook you will find there. You will look forward to nothing more than the ache in your muscles after a day of hiking up and down through reds, oranges and yellows.

Or you will be a logger. At which point, we will have a long talk about the beauty and majesty of trees. And then you will lecture me about the necessity of chopping down trees. And then we will go back and forth for a while and then finally just agree to disagree. Then we will probably each take a sip of tea in an awkward silence, avoiding eye contact and trying to figure out how two people who love each other so much can see things so differently.

Hopefully, it’s the first scenario because not only are trees beautiful but hiking also makes a cheap and easy vacation, and I don’t want us to fight.