MapQuest is a fine mobile app for getting driving directions on your iPhone, but, for me, switching to Waze became a high priority.
Not because it was necessarily better, but because the voice singing the directions belongs to Cookie Monster.
My grandson, James, who turns two on March 1, loves Cookie Monster, so, naturally, I now do, too. Got to keep James smiling when he’s in my car and I need driving directions.
James also loves Elmo, playing with trains, giggling, browsing through books with animals, knocking down plastic bowling pins, giggling, playing Foosball, pushing a toy lawnmower that makes bubbles, giggling, eating peanut butter and jelly sandwiches—he likes to fold the bread and bite out the middle to form a perfect circle—and hundreds of other things. He even talks to Alexa, Amazon’s virtual assistant, and asks/tells her to “Play ‘Baby Shark.’”
All those things are now on my “favorites” list. Anything to please my little buddy. Anything to have something in common with him. Anything that brings joy to that sweet, innocent face and that wonderfully curious personality.
James has made me look at life through the eyes of a toddler. Those eyes aren’t worried about politics or climate change or the never-ending rising cost of New Jersey property taxes.
The eyes of James, and his unbridled thirst to learn, to love, to experience, well, it’s why my grandson is absolutely, positively perfect.
As you may have detected, being a Poppy—or BaBa, as my grandson currently calls me—is….let’s see….what’s the word?
If you are a grandparent, you know the joy this first-time Poppy is feeling.
If you aren’t a grandparent, here’s hoping you become one someday. There’s no better feeling. Nothing compares to seeing your daughter and son-in-law, or son and daughter-in-law, become amazing parents.
Unless, that is, becoming a grandparent.
I always loved being a parent and was fortunate because I got to be “Mr. Mom” when my two kids, Sara and Sammy, were growing up.
During that time of my writing career, I was covering primarily high school sports at The Inquirer and mostly working at night—or starting my workday late in the afternoon. My wife worked during the day, so I had the joy of taking care of the kids during that time.
We would play virtually all sports, take trips to playgrounds, get them together with other kids in the neighborhood, read books, and watch The Elephant Show, Sesame Street, or VCR tapes (remember them?) of various kids’ shows.
It wasn’t all fun and games, of course. The biggest concern was their health, and there were the inevitable illnesses. My wife always says I was overprotective and, looking back, I was. When my kids were babies, I can remember literally sleeping on the floor next to their crib when they were ill, wanting to be as close to them as possible in case they needed help in the middle of the night.
Maybe that’s why being a grandparent is so great. You get all the joy and fewer worries. Oh, I still get very concerned if James is ill, but probably not as much as his parents, Sara and Brian. Parents do the worrying. Grandparents do the spoiling.
My wife, who goes by “Nonna” to her adoring grandson, calls James “Puppy,” probably because he likes to climb on your lap and give you unconditional love. Me? I must have at least 10 nicknames for him, including Sugar Pop, Jamesy, King James, bud, little man, and Ba-Ba.
The last one is curious even to me.
For years, I couldn’t understand why my Italian uncles called their own kids “Daddy.” Uh, YOU’RE the Daddy, I would think to myself. And, yet, there I was, calling James what he calls me, BaBa.
I guess it just means I like the sweet, sing-song way he addresses me and I want to return the favor.
But I digress…
I began writing short notes to James that he may want to read when he’s older. Like these:
• • •
Saturday, April 13, 2019
You are a little over 13 months old and we went to the Maryland Zoo in Baltimore today. You loved the giraffes the best. The smile on your face and the amazement in your eyes was priceless as you looked up to see the giraffes in their inside “house.”
When we arrived at the zoo, I took you out of your car seat, where you were sleeping for the 25-minute ride from your house. You went into my arms and held onto me with all your might. I did not want to let go. It was the best part of my day, and Mommy took a photo of it on her iPhone which I was so grateful to have!
About 30 seconds later, you jostled in my arms, opened your eyes—and were VERY surprised you were at the zoo! You laughed and let out a squeal in delight. It was so loud and spontaneous! You couldn’t believe you were there! And you gave me, Nonna and Mommy a laugh—and a lasting memory!
Thank you, my Sugar Pop!
Later that day, when we were back at your house in Baltimore, I was pushing you on your bike-stroller and Mommy was calling from her bedroom window upstairs. You heard her voice and got a big smile on your face, but you looked all around the street and couldn’t find her. I picked you up out of your stroller and you craned your little neck up and saw your Mama at the window and you smiled sooooo wide and kicked your legs because you were soooo happy as you waved to Mommy.
Thanks for a great day, James. Being with you is such a delight! I love you!
• • •
It’s late September, and Daddy and I took you for a hayride at Zimmerman’s Country Market in Sewell, N.J. You even got to pick out your own little pumpkin. As we sat in the gigantic wagon, I could see the wheels in your little head turning as you watched the 4- and 5-year- old kids and observed what they were doing. You are about 1½ years old and so observant. You like to study people before you interact with them. At one point, the man driving the tractor that pulled the wagon wanted to help you get off, but you clung to me because you weren’t sure who he was.
Like most toddlers, you want to feel comfortable with someone before they earn your trust. I like that.
By the way, I love that you want to spend time with me because I know down the road you will want to be with your friends. That’s only natural, so I’m soaking in all the James Time I can get right now. Spending time with you is the best part of my week!
• • •
You are about 19 months old, and Nonna and Poppy babysat you in Baltimore tonight and took you to a cozy corner pub called Knotty Pine for dinner.
By the time you read this, you may or may not still be a vegetarian, Your Mom and Dad want you to make your own choice when you get older. They are always looking out for you James, and are wonderful parents.
They try to limit the amount of sweet things you eat, like ketchup, but I must confess that we let you splurge tonight. The look on your face as you dipped your fries into ketchup was priceless! (I keep using that word, but it’s so appropriate.) You then started dipping and not eating your fries. Instead, you just dipped and licked off the ketchup. Over and over and over.
And your smile seemed to reach from Baltimore to Wenonah, N.J., where we live.
You could have been eating lobster, or shrimp, or filet and you wouldn’t have had more satisfaction!
You giggled as you ate it, of course. Everything is an adventure for you, and we enjoy watching you sooooooo much and having fun out of the silliest things!
• • •
Nov. 29, 2019 (Black Friday)
You are almost 21 months old, and this is the first Christmas in which you know who Santa is. Mommy, Daddy, Nonna and Poppy took you into Philadelphia today to see the great Christmas light show at Macy’s. We also waited in a line that must have had 700 kids in it—I am NOT exaggerating!—and it took a more than an hour in line before you saw Santa. The nice thing was we walked through Charles Dickens Village along the way, and you were amused by all the characters we passed, including Scrooge.
Santa wasn’t your favorite person. When Mommy tried to put you on his lap, you got scared and wanted no parts of him, so you stayed on her lap as Santa talked to you. Eventually, you loosened up a little and even gave Santa a half-hearted high-five.
Later in the day, Mom and I took you to Exley’s Nursery in Sewell, N.J., to pick out a Christmas tree. They have a toy train show there and your eyes got as big as saucers and your mouth opened wide as you watched them travel around the Christmas village they set up. You watched the trains. I watched your face. You had the same amazed expression as when you licked ketchup off your fries!
James, I wish you had met my mom, rest her soul. She would have been your great grandmom and she would have loved you to pieces as we all do. She used to always say her grandkids were “perfect angels.” and could do no wrong.
I know exactly what she meant.