Whales and Dolphins and Seals, Oh, My!

Yesterday afternoon, my husband, Tom, and I went for a walk on the beach. This is something we do frequently, now that we are living by the ocean. Actually, we live on the shores of Monterrey Bay in Northern California. For those of you unfamiliar with NorCal, it is not a hot, palm-tree-fringed coast. The Japanese current comes down from Alaska, and the waters are cold. Most of the summer, fog covers the coast in the morning, pulls out for a bit in the afternoon, and pours its chilly self back onto the land in the late afternoon or evening. When it’s 100ºF inland, it might get up as high as 80ºF here on the coast. Mostly, summer temperatures are in the 60s or 70s.

But yesterday afternoon, it was warm and the fog hung far out on the water. The sky was cloudless. I spent some time tipping crabs. There are hundreds of small crabs that thrive in the wave zone. They often get tipped upside down by the receding water and wave their eight legs in the air frantically, trying to right themselves. If another wave doesn’t come along to right them, they eventually give up and pose upside down, legs rigidly extended. If the tide is going out they are sometimes eaten by seagulls or just die from exposure. I have a hard time resisting their little flailing legs and I tip them back upright to give them a fighting chance. Yes, I know they’ve been getting tipped upside down for millions of years. Still.

I love shells of all sorts, and collect them whenever I am visiting a beachy place. The shells in our area tend to be a bit drab and there isn’t a lot of variety, but

Sand_dollar_testI look for sand dollars. They wash ashore frequently in this area. When alive or recently deceased, their shells are purple. I check to see if they are alive, which isn’t easy to determine, but if they still have their hair-like legs on the undersides of their shells, I pitch them back in the water. (I make it a point never to take a live shell. I never buy shells, because these are harvested live to assure they are unbroken and unblemished.) If the sand dollars have lost their legs and the “velvet” that coats the outside, they are truly dead and I pick them up if unbroken. The shells are quite fragile, so finding an unbroken sand dollar isn’t unusual, but it is the exception. I’ve been placing the shells to bleach in the sun on my front porch. They range in size from about one inch across to three or four inches.

The water was full of life—and not just surfers and screaming children. There was a huge pod of dolphins roiling the waters, their dark backs and fins rolling smoothly out of the waves like synchronized swimmers—which I suppose they are. There must have been a hundred or more of these beasts just offshore. A small seal or three poked their heads out of the waves. They come in quite close to swimmers, and they sometimes get quite a reaction from people who aren’t expecting a largish animal to surface right next to them.

And then we saw the whales. Further afield, perhaps a half a mile from shore, great spouts of water appeared above the waves. Like geysers, the spouts rose high in the air and lasted for a fairly long time. Several times, I saw whales breaching, leaping out of the water and falling back with a mighty gout of water rising as they hit the surface. I was told by one passerby that humpbacked whales had been spotted in the bay, but today I heard that blue whales were out there yesterday as well. They were too far away for me to tell which we were seeing.

People all along the beach were stopped, standing on the sand and shading their eyes as they stared out to sea. Everyone was smiling, pointing, talking to strangers. People were rejoicing in the sight of the whales as though they had just seen angels.

It was, in a word, magical.

Experiment in Intergenerational Living: The Gummy Bees

It has been a long time since Tom and I lived with a preschooler. Lilah, the preschooler in question, is four. She sailed through the twos without becoming terrible, skipped through the threes without becoming awful—and then hit the Frightful Fours.

Her former response to being thwarted was to assume a deeply saddened and affronted expression, rather like Mother Theresa confronted by, say, Lady Gaga. Then she would turn her back on everyone like an anchorite abandoning a wicked world. She did all this in perfect silence, which I thought was a dramatic underscore to her soul-gnawing sorrow at being denied Goldfish crackers for lunch.

Now if Lilah is thwarted, she will frequently throw herself to the floor with a scream. She will begin pounding the unoffending floor with her heels or fist, punctuating this with more shrieks. This is usually in response to being asked to eat something (healthy) or being told she can’t eat something (unhealthy), but there are many other triggers.

This bothers her parents a lot, but it doesn’t perturb Tom or me very much. She’s kind of a piker compared with her Mom or her Uncle Sean, although they went through it earlier than Lilah. It does raise the question of discipline, though. As Tom and I are sometimes the only adults around, permitting her parents to carry on their work lives, we are sometimes on the spot when it comes to applying corrective action. And disciplining someone else’s child is a sensitive matter. She might be our granddaughter, but she isn’t our child.

When Kerry and Mike are present, they get to do the disciplining. Tom and I are merely interested observers who need earplugs. When they are not here, we have relied on the Grandparent Card a lot, but who knows how long that will last? Counting to three (very slowly) usually works. Once in a while, a short timeout helps. So far, so good, but one of these days, Lilah is going to pitch a complete hissy fit on us, and we’re going to have to deal. The only advantage we have is that it really just doesn’t bother us. Raising her mother toughened us up a lot.


A Gummy Bee

A Gummy Bee

Now, what about those gummy bees? This is one of the great things about living with a grandchild—getting to hear a completely new set of wonderful mispronunciations. Her mother used to call flowerpots “flower pants,” which I always thought was brilliant. Her uncle used to go to “pretty school,” until Kerry finally scorned him into saying “preschool.” (Too bad.) Lilah has gummy bees: “I gummy bee a builder when I grow up.” “I gummy bee happy to see Auntie Cara.” I envision all these little gummy bees flying around her as she dances her way through life. They are all different pastel colors, and they have little smiles on their cute little gummy bee faces.

Because most of the time, Lilah is a delight. She has the most beautiful, sunny smile. She sings to herself as she plays, lining up her toys in the upstairs hall to “teach them school” or read them a story. She laughs readily and cuddles when she’s tired. She loves animals and art and playing games with Nana.

She can scream all she wants. She’s still my darling.

Intergenerational Living: The Experiment Continues

Inca and Her Mom

Inca and Her Mom

It’s the dog days of summer, and apparently all the literary agents are on vacation. So nothing is happening on the book front. That’s my excuse for now. However, much is happening on the living front, in the house by the sea where my husband Tom and I (both 63) now live with our daughter, Kerry (32), son-in-law Mike (36) and granddaughter Lilah (4).

It’s now been about two months since we all moved in together. At first, with boxes everywhere and the furniture all in the wrong rooms, and double the tools and food needed to stock and run a kitchen, things were a bit uncomfortable. After the first week, Mike returned to work, and the rest of us kind of lost interest in having to unpack even one more box.

Tom had a brilliant idea. He suggested that we put all the boxes and furniture we didn’t know what to do with in one room—the living room—and concentrate on making the rest of the rooms workable. This helped enormously. We were no longer tripping over boxes. The rest of the house began to settle down to more-or-less normal living.

But of course, the boxes did not unpack themselves. Last weekend, we bravely faced the room of boxes and began to unpack. Empty boxes began to pile up on the porch once more. We didn’t get through the entire room, but did make progress. We can now see the fireplace in the living room—Kerry had actually forgotten that we have a fireplace.

The people have been getting along well. No fights and no hard feelings, as far as I can tell. Everyone seems pretty happy. Mike is the one with the hardest situation as he has a longer commute to his job, and works the late shift, so he often arrives home when everyone else has gone to bed. He bought a commuter car to save on gas, which also helped his driving experience as he was navigating a winding mountain highway with an enormous truck. The smaller car handles better on the curves in addition to guzzling less gas.

The pets are having a somewhat more difficult time dealing with the blended family situation. We have Gigi, a 65-pound lab-shepherd mix with a saintly disposition, and Inca, a small black (formerly feral) cat who thinks Gigi is her Mom. Kerry has Hendrix and Marley, 15-pound Japanese Chins. Chins, in case you don’t know, are fluffy little dogs with squashed-in faces and bulging eyes. Marley has an overbite that makes him look aggressive, but he isn’t. Hendrix has a mop of wild hair and skewed eyes. He often has the tip of his tongue protruding as well, so the total effect is one of psychopathy—not too far from the mark. Hendrix appears to think he can take Gigi down, which apart from being delusional, is annoying. He will bite Gigi’s heels or try to take her gigantic toys away from her. Gigi, peaceable but insisting on her rights, retaliates, often by squashing him flat. Much growling and tussling ensues because Hendrix, far from being deterred by being squashed, keeps on coming. Adults scream at them, and Lilah runs away crying.

Inca, being a cat, hated being moved. Worse, we moved her twice—once into our friend’s home, and a month or so later, into our new home. She has settled down well, and is now trying to escape from the house. She’s gotten out twice, and apparently the local wildlife is terrifying, because she doesn’t seem to be enjoying her outings. There are a couple of known tough cats in the neighborhood as well as skunks, raccoons, possums and other assorted beasties. Inca may have once been feral, but I don’t think she was very good at it, and she appears to be better suited to lounging around the house and kissing dogs.

She’s an indoor cat, partly because I promised to keep her indoors when I adopted her, partly because indoor cats stay cleaner and healthier, and partly because she is black and what some people do to black cats is horrible. (Black cats are also harder to find adoptive homes for, so the next time you think about adopting, remember that black is beautiful.)

Being fond of dogs, Inca has been making overtures to the Chins. She tried to kiss Marley yesterday and he snapped at her, which may set cat-Chin relations back for months. She got out of the house again, but was back within a couple of hours, wailing and fluffed-up with terror.

So the non-humans are having a harder time than the humans in making this enormous adjustment. Hurray for the humans!