Susie Wilde: Filling my grandmother’s bag

Apr. 13, 2013 @ 03:03 PM

When I was a child my family took four hour trips on the New York Thruway to visit my grandmother in Lenox, Mass. My parents folded down all but the front seat, creating a pillowed no man’s land where my sister and I fought and fidgeted. My mother’s harmony to “Mr. Moon” drifted back to pause our pinches and pouts. We played “I packed my grandmother’s bag,” a memory game where we took turns making up items a fictional grandmother might have packed in alphabetic order.
My grandmother was gifted. Each visit began as my sister and I made a mad dash down a wooded hill behind her house. There, in the hollow of a tree, Peter Rabbit left us small gifts. My grandmother also rounded up neighborhood girls and threw parties, once a taffy-pull and for another she wound colored ribbons through her house. We followed the satin rainbow upstairs and down, in and out of rooms, until we each found a wide-brimmed floppy garden hat which we donned for tea and croquet on her wide lawn edged with orange tiger lilies.
At age 10 my daughter asked me, “What’s so great about grandmothers?” Sadly, my mother never understood grandparenting. She refused to buy my daughter’s handmade stenciled stationery because “it was too expensive” and would only do Peter Rabbit’s hole if I promised to stock it. After she moved, she asked, “Can Peter Rabbit die now?”
I promised my daughter – and myself – that I would be a fabulous grandparent.
When my granddaughter visited at Thanksgiving, she was 10 months old. We put her in a backpack and crunched through fall leaves to find Peter Rabbit’s hole. But I have to wait to create the kind of magical relationship I had with my grandmother. Now I build her library and watch her enjoy the books. So what did I pack in my grandmother’s bag for her first birthday?
Bill Martin and Eric Carle’s “Panda Bear, Panda Bear, What Do You See?” (Priddy Books, ages 1-4) which has been transformed into a “slide and find” board book. It still has Martin’s bouncy rhythms and Carle’s colorful images, but at the bottom of each page is a small window that heralds the next page. The book blends what small children love best: rhythm, rhyme, bright illustrations, something their small fingers can manipulate, and a peek-a-boo surprise.
Song books work well to comfort young babies (and their nervous grandmothers). I packed the board book version of Karen Beaumont’s “I Ain’t Gonna Paint No More!” (Houghton, ages 0-5), easily sung to the tune of “It Ain’t Gonna Rain No More.” The rollicking lyrics feature an art-driven child who wildly paints one body after another. At 1 she’ll love the bouncy tune, later rhyming will support her in predicting which body part will be the next canvas.
Is it every too early to talk to a baby about love? Sam McBratney and Anita Jeram’s much-loved “Guess How Much I Love You” (Candlewick, ages 1-4) now comes in a padded board book. The reassuring story stars Little Nutbrown Hare and his father, Big Nutbrown Hare, who try and outdo each other in picturing the expansive love they feel. Its calming tone is just right for settling down for sleep.
Something for the diaper bag and to grow on? Oliver Durnea’s popular character, Goosie, now appears in five small books, Goosie & Friends (Houghton-Harcourt, ages 1-3). Now my granddaughter can turn the pages, later she’ll appreciate the small gosling’s adventures.
I packed some books for the future, too. The first was the rhyming, silly P.D. Eastman’s 50th anniversary version “Go, Dog, Go!” (Random, ages 2-5), a book my son once loved and will love to read to her.
I’m not a birder, but her maternal grandmother is so I packed Sharon Lovejoy’s “My First Bird Book and Bird Feeder” (Workman). It comes with a plastic birdfeeder to bring birds close to the window and a small accompanying book to help children identify more than 30 species by sight and sound. Her maternal grandmother lives close by, so together they’ll enjoy avian activities like making bird food and keeping a bird journal.
And speaking of journals, the last thing I’m giving is a promise. I’ve bought myself and her maternal grandmother “Memories for My Grandchild: A Grandmother’s Keepsake Journal” (Welcome Books). It’s softly illustrated, well-organized, easy to write in. One of the books I treasure most is a grandmother’s journal my mother filled out for my children, I want my granddaughter and her parents to have this heirloom, too.
Read more at Susie Wilde’s website, ignitingwriting.com.