Modern Times

Grandmothers got it rough. We don’t say this to our kids, of course. We just go off and mutter to other grandmothers.

“Our kids,” we say to each other, “survived to be adults without poking their eyeballs out from running with a stick or getting taken to the hospital with holes in their underwear or catching their death of cold from going out without their sweater. They owe it all to us.”

But do we get credit?


And we’re right. These same people we brought into the world (which was no picnic – but don’t get me started) and fed balanced meals to and rushed to the doctor when they stuck erasers in their noses and got pea gravel in their ears and chug-a-lugged entire bottles of Flinstone vitamins, now think they got to give us instructions on child care.

Plus they got new rules. Always lay the baby on his back. Don’t cover him up with blankets. Don’t give him peanut butter. Or raisins. Or honey.

If it took until 2008 to figure out how to keep babies alive, how come the human race didn’t become extinct a long time ago? I ask you that.

But when my daughter Gumdrop asks me to go help her chase the kids around for a week at Aunt Chlorine’s condo in Orange Beach, I take her up on it. If I’m lucky, it’ll be the only trip I take this year. Me and my mother-in-law, Ms. Larda, were talking about it. We can’t afford the gas for both a vacation plus a hurricane evacuation.

We decided if we got to evacuate, we’ll call it a “hurrication” – a trip you only take if you have to but if you have to do it, you might as well enjoy it. Like sex, says Ms. Larda. Anyway, that’s how she thinks about it. So we got brochures about mountain retreats up north and we stash away some money just in case.

 But Aunt Chlorine is Gumdrop’s godmother and every summer she lets Gumdrop and her family spend a week at the condo for free. This year, Gumdrop’s husband Slime, who runs a computer and bicycle repair business, got hired to computerize an environmental toilet company in New Orleans that very same week. So, Gumdrop asked me to go instead.    

On the drive, I ride shotgun. My job is to hurl juice boxes and baby bottles and bags of Goldfish crackers into the back seat on demand, and to periodically drape myself over my seat back with my butt in the air and scrabble for a pacifier or a Barbie that has landed on the floor.

Gumdrop has installed two tiny movie screens, one featuring Disney Princess movies for my granddaughter Lollipop and one showing a Elmo marathon for Lollipop’s little brother, Go-cup. Behind that, along with beach stuff and diapers, we got Gumdrop’s two cats, Rocky and Carlos, drugged up on catnip in a pet carrier, because Gumdrop couldn’t find anybody to catsit.

After five hours, including two potty and litter box breaks, our lively little party wedges itself into an elevator, cats caterwauling and babies babywauling, and rides up five floors to this very nice condo which looks straight out on the ocean.

Gumdrop runs a efficient ship. She knows all kinds of modern housekeeping shortcuts like keeping a hair dryer on kitchen counter for warming up the ice cream scoop, drying wet socks real fast or blowing crumbs off the table.

She even brought along her robot vacuum cleaner. This looks like a miniature flying saucer, only it don’t fly. You push down on a pedal and it scoots around and cleans up all the crumbs she blew off the table, plus sand and cat hair and God-knows-what, even under the coffee table. Then it automatically scoots back to its recharger.

If we remember to do this every day, Aunt Chlorine won’t have nothing to complain about, she says. Aunt Chlorine is persnickety about housekeeping and she’ll be in the condo the week after us.

 The rest of the week is a blur of kids, cats, hermit crabs and diapers. But Gumdrop manages to keep some semblance of order. I got no idea when she’s running that vacuum, but the floors never even get dirty.

Anyway, the day before we leave, we come up from the beach and there sits Aunt Chlorine in the living room. Surprise!

We open our eyes wide and paste on smiles like we are overjoyed to see her. Gumdrop lays it on thick, says how terrific it is to be here and how Mama (that being me) has managed to get the floors cleaned every single day while Gumdrop was bathing the kids.

This is news to me.

The next day Aunt Chlorine volunteers to go down to the beach with Gumdrop and the kids while I pack.

I think maybe I should actually run the robot vacuum while they are gone but I never tried it before. I am staring at it, scratching my chin, when Rocky the cat stalks past me, pounces on the vacuum and presses his two front paws on the pedal.

And would you believe, it starts up. Then he sits down and prepares to be amused while it scoots around. By the time the rest of them come back, the vacuum has finished and gone back to its recharger.

So – Rocky is why the floors stayed clean. I decide to keep this to myself.

On the trip home, Gumdrop reminds me to break the Goldfish crackers in half so the baby won’t choke, dip the pacifier in water after it hits the floor and use hand-cleaner on my hands.

Then she thanks me again for cleaning the floors every night.

Finally I got credit for something.

I owe Rocky some catnip.

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