Support Reproductive Rights or Put a Bean up Your Nose

I have a friend I admire–let’s call her Ruthie. Decades ago as a young mom, she worked to keep abortion legal. Her office was in a non-profit complex, and her toddler daughter was in daycare just down the hall.

Ruthie was set to go on local television to give her pitch about a woman’s right to choose. At that very moment, the toddler put a dried bean up her nose. Everyone tried to remove it, to no avail. The toddler shrieked, and shrieked some more.

Ruthie’s assistant took the toddler out of camera–and ear–range. Ruthie spoke to the cameras. Then jumped in the car and took the toddler to the pediatrician. Let me just say that toddler is now a grown woman, and her nose is fine.

There is no moral to this story, of course. But it does inspire reflection, and is still funny. Ruthie was in a classic working mom bind, but handled it well. There is something endearing about a women’s rights activist having to get a bean taken out of a toddler’s nose.

I think also that some of the unconflicted love the women of my generation–and after–bear our children is linked to a woman’s right to choose. These children were wanted. Even if not planned for, or desired at first, they were indeed chosen. Abortion has been legal most of my reproductive life–and for the whole life of Ruthie’s daughter. It is a real option.

Children can be a stress, or seem inevitable, but we do have the basic right to choose. And with that choice comes love.

Image from

Back To People: Bubbe Report from Miriam Sagan

Back to People

Life with a two and a half year old can feel a bit bi-polar. Wreathed in smiles, acting out Goldilocks, my own grand-daughter looking like an Arthur Rackam flower fairy…all is groovy. Then, hysteria. Sobbing. Lying on the floor. The beating of feet.

“What’s the matter?”

“The ice cream…melted.”

All my protestations about how yummy melted ice cream is go unheard (I’m not lying. I genuinely like melted ice cream).

But, life as we know it, is now OVER. All is lost. All is a terrible, inconsolable, dreadful loss.

The truth is, I know exactly hw she feels. Donald Trump. COVID. Going back in time, a broken heart, a thwarted plan, a ruined dream.

Sob sob sob. Kick kick kick. But I don’t, at least not in public.

So, trying to model…well, something that isn’t a tantrum…I leave her alone for a bit. I’m available, but quiet. Soon, I hear her murmuring to the baby dolls. Soon, the butterfly net full of baby dolls emerges on her shoulder as she distracts herself from the fit.

Until the next one.

This next anecdote contains a confession. We were watching My Little Pony (Yes, it is moronic, but we both like it). I said: I wish I could fly like my little ponies.

G. waved an imaginary wand at me and pronounced: “Fly, little pony!”

I pretended to fly.

She waved the imaginary wand in the opposite direction.

“Back to people,” she said.

She was trying to say, back to being a person, but with toddler syntax.

I like that. Back to people we go, for good or for ill, with all that comes with that.

Show Me

I recently took a mini-workshop on film, something I don’t know much about. But it did predictably talk about story arc, which as a reader and writer of fiction I am well acquainted with. And then came the proviso: show, don’t tell.

This makes a lot more sense in terms of screenwriting than prose. Why say “the red apple sits on the blue tablecloth” when you can just show it.

However, this advice just does not translate into fiction. Contemporary fiction may be stripped down compared to its ancestors, but there is no reason to reduce it to a shooting script. For fiction, both reader and writer need “telling”—sometimes called a narrative bridge.

Telling is the essence of story. I’ve been waiting for 2 1/2 year old G. to be able to follow one. So far, results are mixed.

I was singing her the Irish ballad that goes “Gráinne, Queen of the Pirates” which did indeed catch her attention

“Where’s my boat?’ she asked.

“Close your eyes,” I said. “We’ll use our imaginations.” I figured we’d both seen enough Sesame Street to make this work. “The waves are crashing. The pirate flag is flying in the wind.”

But it didn’t work. “Where is my boat?” the literal child demanded, opening her eyes.

So I had to distract her with ice cream. Or, to be specific (a hallmark of all writing): coconut-pineapple sorbet.

ESL Bubbe

G. is almost 21/2, and talkative. We don’t always understand, but recently I heard her have a rather complete conversation with her dad, Tim. It is partially that they are close, and share an interest in his work–excavation.

Tim: I’ve been cleaning out my parents’ yard while they’re away. Took up a lot of sand.

G. Pop John’s?

Tim: Yes, at his house.

G. Mud?

Tim: There’s caliche mud under the sand. Working on that too.

G. MY sand? (with the worried look of a home owner).

Tim: I haven’t touched your sand or the playground, don’t worry.

Work is a big topic, as she lives on a family ranch with numerous businesses. She hates it when her mom Isabel and I retreat for our weekly studio date, but we do need to focus.

Tim: Does bubbe (that’s me!) work?

G.: With mom.

Tim: Alone?

G. No. (I never so much as take a phone call or check my email when we are together. I’m hers).

Tim: So what does Bubbe do?

G.: Talk.

Bubbe Report: I Have Not Lived In Vain

During the pandemic, when social life was at a low and I could zoom in nice earrings and pjs and no one was the wiser, I still got dressed up to hang out with G., the baby. She liked my earrings from the first, and as an infant turned towards bright colors.

She is now 2 years, 3 months. She is talking up a storm, more often than not hitting a full sentence.

And this weekend, it happened. I really was dressed up–wearing a new white tunic printed with big pale strawberries. And fruit earrings that don’t match on purpose. And apricot colored drawstring pants. Sure, I look like the Santa Fe old lady hippie I am, and the clothes are comfy enough to sleep in. But I was feeling good.

And G. said, very clearly, “Grandma, I like your dress.” About thirty years ago her mom had popped in while I was dressing and told me, “I like your shoes.”

Both times I have felt in complete harmony with my universe.

Bubbe Report: Sleepless at the Sleepover

It is bedtime, at my house. Ms. G. aged 2 years and 2 months is sleeping over because her parents have requested a night off. We always have fun, but now the struggle begins.

“My dad is coming,” she says. She’s getting very good at stringing words together. She looks out the window. “Dad,” she says, but perhaps with more hope than certainty. Still, it is heartbreaking. Even I, who know he is out to dinner with G’s mom, am thinking—where the heck is he?

We’ve played and eaten and bathed and danced along with Big Bird and read. Now at dusk, grandpa Rich announces he is going for a walk. “Go for walk!” she suggests to me. But I’m now the evil witch, and I insist on bed. A bit of sobbing, a bit of thrashing, collecting Bitty Binkie the Blankie and Tygger and the two favorite baby dolls, and soon snoring. I lie down next to her—I’ve promised. And besides, I’m exhausted.

In the middle of the night we wake up, stagger to the bathroom, and then a bit more sobbing, “Read! Book book book!” “Ok,” I say. “I’ll read Little Bear. Shut your eyes.” Of course I can’t read in the dark, but I’ve got Little Bear memorized. More snoring. But now I’m wide awake.
I’m old, I’m tired, I feel bad that not every minute is perfect. What is she learning? That you have to compromise with others? That sometimes our chosen person isn’t there? That her grandmother is slavishly devoted but still can’t indulge every whim?

By morning, all seems forgiven. Breakfast, and by 7:30 am main man dad is back. “Your dad is here!” I say. But she bolts into my lap, buries her face in me, holds tight. Only when he opens the door does she rush towards him, wreathed in rewarding smiles.

And off they go. What is unfamiliar to me in her—her sunny good nature, a love of heavy machinery—comes from him, my son-in-law. She is familiar to both of us, but in different ways. Last night as she kicked my back in her sleep and edged me off the bed she reminded me a lot of her mother as a babe.

Does she remind me of myself at two? Well, that I can’t remember.
“Grandpop walk,” she tells her dad as she reports. That is what she retains. A missed adventure, something intriguing, something she is sure to get.

Bubbe Report: A Grandmother By Any Other Name…

Well, I finally have my grandmother name! And it is…grandma. G., almost two years old, finally stopped called me MOM??? and said “Grandma.”

She’s been calling Rich PopPop Rico for some time. (Rico is his commune name, used in the family, too).

It is all tea parties all the time here. The real tea party, which goes like this:
1. smelling and approving the herbal tea bag
2. water in cup–hot!
3. dunking the bag (say dunk dunk dunk)
4. pouring cream from little pitcher
5. two teaspoons sugar
6. stir stir stir (say stir stir stir)
7. a sip, a sigh of happiness
8. check that I am also drinking mine
9. drink cup

Then the imaginary ones, using the little tin set with the hedgehogs on it. Then drinking bath water with measuring cups. And then the most mysterious–a set composed of small breakable objects that were mine but now co-opted…a Chinese tea pot, a bunch of cat-shaped chopstick holders, an Anasazi replica cup and spoon…These things live together but not always in harmony (the cats get stuck in the teapot) and not in a fixed way.

The question of “what do we eat?” remains an ongoing discussion. I added my favorite amethyst crystals to a rock collection, turned my back, and G. was hiding in a corner, looking guilty, and licking them with a hypnotized expression as if they were Turkish Delight from the White Witch in Narnia.

I’d like to eat them, too. But traded them for a spice drop which G. then fed to a legless plastic flamingo.

So that is what is happening at my house.

Bubbe Report: Language Is A Virus

I may be a writer, but I’m not the enemy of non-standard English. This is particularly useful because here in the pandemic’s “Bubbe’s Daycare” I spend three afternoons a week chatting with a toddler. I often feel we’ve had rather extensive conversations on the topics of “can you eat soap?” and “what happened to the cookie in the tea?” as well as more philosophical explorations about “if something is big, is it a mom?”

Speaking of moms, it seems that is my name too. I’m not bubbe, grandma, Mir or anything like that. Generically, I am a mom, and called as such.

My youngest niece called all her aunts and uncles “Steve.” She had an uncle Steve, and she extrapolated to the rest of us. I didn’t mind and I knew what she meant. One nephew called Rich “aunt Richard” which I also found cute. Anthropologists are interested in kinship systems, and little kids are no exception.

My daughter Isabel of course refers to me as mom, and so the toddler sees me greeted that way. My vibe must be similar enough to Isabel’s that the comparison is obvious. I try “yes, grand mom” but that does not take. The truth is, everything is mom right now–people, animals, large blocks, a Navajo doll. And I am mom too.

After all, Isabel once, in a toddler fury, called her father “a suitcase.” As long as you don’t angrily refer to me as an inanimate object, I’m fine.

Bubbe Report

How do babies do it? Do they read ahead in the child development book? Anyway, 21 month old G. is acting a lot like…a 21-month old. I still call her “the baby” but figure at the two year mark she is officially a child (or a toddler).

Language is starting to kick in. I joke that she is my slowest ESL student ever, but she is making great strides.”UP, mom.” “NO NO NO.” “Moon. “Salt.” “Pepper.”

Every time she notices Tiny Dog, the sweet chihuahua who has been G.’s companion since birth, G. tells me confidingly: “dog.” I thought that would be her first word but it was “up”–an important word for a short person.

We still communicate more on the level of sound than complete thoughts.”Caw caw” she says, seeing the crow out the window. I have managed to teach–by example–my silly useless game of fake sleeping, complete with fake snoring. She lies down, closes her eyes, and pretends to snore. Maybe this isn’t a universally useful activity–but I’ve always enjoyed it.

Everything is in groups. I have toes. She has toes. A cookie, broken onto bits, is referred to as Dada, Mama, and baby. Pretty much all objects are arranged this way.

What is she thinking? I’ll never know–and her brain is changing so fast she won’t remember. When she feeds the crayon a grape I sort of get it, but not totally.

Still, the crayon seems satisfied.

Bubbe Report

I spent rather more time than I could have imagined putting a pair of reading glasses on a pastel confetti-covered toro pinata.

I might have created a monster as 19-month old Grainne now expects me to sing from “Carmen” whenever we engage with this bull-shaped pinata.

She was scared at first, and I understand why…the new creature seemed “real.” But unfamiliar and potentially too wild. Now it is part of the domestic scene.

Things are changing and fast. G. has new words such as “mine” and “no.” “Boom” and “dog” seemed easier on the ear. I wouldn’t exactly say the grandma/baby honeymoon is over, but we’re entering a new stage.

I don’t quite remember this feeling, though, from motherhood–that we are entering it together. Maybe I was bossier as a mom.

I bring her into my world and she lets me in to hers.