Inspector Clouseau of Spy Craft

“Did you tell your kids?” my niece asked.

I gasped, “No, no. The spy cam isn’t for inside the house. It’s for outside. And … we offered to have the app put on Juan and Crystel’s phone as well.” (They didn’t hesitate to say yes).

I’d been wanting to get outside cameras for a long time.

Once before, Jody and I briefly tried a spy cam/tracking device with Juan and Crystel. I’m not even sure they ever knew about it. Jody and I paid the price. There was a short period when we wanted to know where our car was going when we weren’t in it. I tucked the electronic device in the back pocket of the car seat. I never did figure out how to use the device correctly. I even bought two of them thinking the first device was faulty. Jody and I tracked the car to Chick-fil-A down the street. We couldn’t find the car anyplace. It was mind-boggling. We figured that Juan found the device and threw it out of the car into the grassy area. We drove to the high school where he said he was going and there was our car in the parking lot. Right where he said it would be.

The next and last time we were tempted to use the electronic tracking device was after a school administrator told us that all kids vape. Jody and I were like, “WHAT!” We didn’t think our kids vaped. Her certainty freaked us out enough that we jumped in the car and drove to the Richfield Ice Arena. Juan was walking into the facility when I hollered for him to come to our car. He was startled as heck to see us. “Are you vaping?’ I asked. He told us no and we believed him. Still do.

I figured if we weren’t using the tracking device, then we weren’t paying for it. I didn’t realize that we had a monthly subscription that continued renewing. This went on for more than a year before Jody tracked down the credit card charge that kept popping up. It was an expensive lesson for the parents.

I’m still trying to figure out what that lesson was exactly. So, I was bound to repeat it. Hence, my hesitation on going ahead with any purchase of outside cameras.

What helped me to decide was seeing our neighbor on a ladder putting his cameras up. I asked him if he would put spy cams up for us if we bought the same cameras. Easy enough. Now we have three outdoor cameras. The app is installed on all of our phones.

The cameras chirp every time they’re tripped. With an active household of two eighteen-year-olds, a girlfriend, a boyfriend, two parents, two dogs, two cats, Amazon, mail, and newspaper delivery, they are tripped a lot. We also have the occasional neighborhood cat come by during the early morning hours.

The first weekend after the cameras were up, Jody, Juan, and Crystel were on a ski trip out of town for five days. Every time I walked outside to walk the dogs or to run an errand, they would talk to me through the camera. I’d also hear them calling to our cats and dogs sitting on the stoop or backyard patio. It quickly became routine to wave and greet the camera as I was coming and going. I enjoyed this intimacy.

The spy cam was especially great at night, just before bedtime, when I would take the dogs out for the last time, and I’d hear Crystel’s sweet voice saying, “Night, Mama.”  

On one occasion during the first couple of weeks that we had the cameras, Jody and I overheard Juan’s girlfriend telling him,” You are obsessed with that camera.” He was at her house but was saying Hi to his cat at home through the spy cam and the camera was picking up their voices. Naturally, we replayed it for them at the first opportunity.

If only I could figure out how to talk to anyone through the spy cam.

January 6, 2021

The day after the invasion of our Capitol our almost seven-year-old granddaughter said to our daughter: “So those people will be arrested, right? And then they will go to jail? Because that is dangerous. They could make the police sick and then who would stop people from stealing and other bad things? And what if Congress gets scared so they can’t make rules anymore?”

Washington, D.C. has a magnetic pull. My tradition is to walk to the White House every visit and take pictures. Our daughter lived there when she clerked for the United States Tax Court which meant visiting her and exploring her favorite places. We did the Supreme Court tour one time with her providing insights. In 2019 I spent a day sitting in the House of Representatives and the Senate galleries as well as touring the Capitol with a member of Senator Amy Klobuchar’s staff. Meeting people in the offices of our representative and senator then watching them at work at the Capitol deepened my sense of what the democratic process means.

I think we waste trips to Washington, DC on grade school kids. Every citizen of voting age should be required at least once to visit the places where our government does it work. To go through security, read placards, sit in those galleries, hear the history of each branch. Let’s make it a compulsory requirement that anyone who votes must demonstrate that they have studied the processes that keep this nation a democracy. Not as a high school student, but at an age years after their formal education is complete. Call it a citizenship refresher.  

Bless my daughter, and every parent or person responsible for children and young people, as they provide information and assurances during these times. If it has not been difficult to give kids a sense of safety while walking the talk about mask wearing and social distancing, now there is this to explain. And to fix.

A Larger Force

Healthy exercise respecting social distance in the neighborhood appeared difficult with a cluster of kids playing soccer, family groups stretching across walks and streets, dog walking people following the direction of their pets. We drove to the quiet side of a nature preserve where trails are seldom used on weekends. One car stood empty in the parking lot. Parents with a preschool child exited a different car.

We waited for them, but as shoe tying and other preparations continued we made our way to the trail map. The youngster, possibly unaware of social distancing, ran to join us and told her parents that she wanted to be lifted to read the map. Offering her their hands, they assured her they knew the way. We backed away as the child threw a hissy complete with screaming, stomping, and slapping. The right trail choice was any that would create space from the unhappy kid.

As grandparents we’ve learned about giving young children time to make wise choices instead of forcing action on them. Children of privilege are supported in making choices many times daily from choosing to wear clothes to daycare through patient questioning of resistance at bedtime twelve hours later. Family, friends, complete strangers, might be expected to wait while a child tests the limits or can’t choose. It takes a village after all.

Then comes COVID-19—no negotiations, no children making choices, no endangering strangers by ignoring social distance guidelines. The village has been forced into change.

From closed schools, to prohibited playgrounds that look the same as open playgrounds, to stores asking only one family member do household chores; parenting has pivoted in answer to the dual wham of pandemic and economic storms. Parental instincts to keep things normal for the kids are strained as jobs are lost, employers demand long work hours in the family’s home, distance learning replaces classrooms, and being homebound stretches. Hugs of grandparents, cousins and close friends disappeared with no known date of return. Parents have had little time to concentrate on adapting to new burdens, to problem solve, to explore their personal fears or worries.

Experts say our kids experience anxiety of this crisis just like adults. Some will lose a loved one or friend. The soundtrack of childhood has been interrupted to never play in quite the same way. COVID-19 is drawing new lines on the future maps of kids’ adulthood. Our six-year-old family member misses her classmates, her neighborhood friends, going places with her parents. She understands that the sickness means she can’t ride her bike with other kids, climb or swing at the park, be physically present with her friends. The sickness is beyond her parents’ control. She can make good decisions about a snack or activity, but bigger forces now set the limits beyond the front door.

Technology gives us time to talk, play games, be with family. A plate or two on the table and tiny faces on a screen may be how we celebrate this spring’s holiday and holy day traditions with those we love. Better than no connection, a card or a phone call. COVID-19 denies us the powerful comfort of each other’s warmth, smell, physical presence whether around the dining table, at a special event, at a hospital bedside. Some of us will stay healthy. Some of us will die in the company of strangers. No screaming, stomping or slapping can change what we have to keep doing. We will gather to celebrate or grieve in the future. God willing.

Stay home. Stay safe. Keep others safe. May your holy day traditions provide comfort.

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Lessons Learned on a Sick Day

She was up barfing at four. When I arrived hours later, she had pink cheeks, a kitty ears headband, and was play-ready. She assured me it wasn’t really being sick to barf, but pre-school wanted her to stay home. She was sad Mom wasn’t staying home, sad to miss her friends, but game for whatever Grandma brought to the day.

Lemon-lime soda was no longer needed. Water was fine. Munching many plain saltines and a cup of dry cereal made up for a missed breakfast. Within minutes we were on the sofa deep in a Brain Quest card deck working through sequencing challenges, adding, matching letters and words, talking about calendars and telling time on old-fashioned round clocks.

Those clocks sparked the first pronouncement of preschool wisdom. She thought I must have had a clock with numbers in a circle because I am old. I corrected that statement to older. She didn’t buy the change. A teenager had given me the same look when I asked if the general store in a small town carried watches.

With interest in Brain Quest waning, I suggested we start an art project. She turned down the idea because she said she loved to learn things. There wasn’t anything better she could have said if she hadn’t finished with a sympathetic sigh before sharing that it was sad that old people couldn’t learn stuff. That’s not true I replied and told her about a friend who learned another language to work with immigrants, another friend attending university classes, my own tap-dancing studies. She frowned and said maybe I had special friends. That I do.

Even at her age I couldn’t do backward summersaults, so she had me at that, but I didn’t expect to frighten her when I got down on the floor to do a plank next to her. Old people could get hurt doing planks she said. I replied anybody could get hurt doing planks, but we were both strong because we could hold a plank for almost a minute. Then I sat back to watch her attempt head stands and intricate twirls.

We rounded out the day with dressing the cat, coloring paper dolls, and baking a chocolate cake. She looked tired, but happy. Her mother looked tired after an important work day. And grandma drove home, happily tired out after an unexpected play day.

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Santa and the Spirit of Christmas (Spoiler Alert!)

We began an elaborate hoax when our sons were toddlers. Santa lived with his elves in a toy shop at the North Pole. He drove a sleigh pulled by magical reindeer. Somehow Santa brought presents for kids all over the world all in one night. Sometimes I wondered why I was perpetuating the myth, when I would just have to explain it away later.

As little guys, our sons couldn’t distinguish make believe from so-called reality. There was God, who they couldn’t see or understand, Power Rangers who got rid of bad guys, and Barney, a singing purple dinosaur. Why not Santa? Plus, the fiction was bolstered by family, at daycare, in stores, and by songs, movies, and books. The idea of Santa would have been hard to resist, especially since their friends and neighbors were also being indoctrinated. But when it came right down to it, we likedthe idea of magic and spreading joy.

So, we were committed. When the boys mentioned toys they liked, we took note and occasionally reset expectations (Santa brings presents to so many kids. He probably can’t give 160-piece Lego sets to everyone.) We hung stockings and filled them with never-seen-before candy on Christmas Eve after the guys were asleep. Along with the wrapped gifts from us, we set out unwrapped gifts from Santa. We encouraged the boys to leave cookies and milk for Santa. My husband and I enjoyed the cookies, but left one with a bite out of it along with a thank you note from Santa. Christmas felt magical.

Eventually, our sons grew older and began to wonder if Santa was real. Then I explained that Santa was make believe, but the spirit of Christmas isn’t. At Christmas, many people are more generous, more loving, and act better than they have to. Over the years, people have done incredible things in the name of Christmas, like the Christmas Truce of World War I in 1914. As part of my explanation, I also swore my guys to secrecy. They were under strict orders not to tell their friends what they had learned—they should let other kids’ parents explain it. Our sons understood the responsibility and wanted to help keep the magic alive.

I don’t know how our sons will handle the topic of Santa if they have children, but if they carry on the tradition, I’ll be a willing co-conspirator.