When I was a little girl, maybe about seven years old, it was decided that I would go stay with what we called my “town Mama Granny” for a week. Everyone agreed it would be a good adventure for my summer vacation. My Mama Granny was probably the richest old lady in the tiny town and was part of high society. She owned and ran the biggest store in town, which was a miniature of what we now know as Wal-mart. Every morning she dressed in her fine clothes and high-heeled shoes, and then walked a block to open her store. The store was like a fairy wonderland to me. It was full of all kinds of things I had never seen before, and I was thrilled to help her in any way I could. But that was just in my dreams.

The summer started off poorly. First, I was required to wear shoes. No country girl ever wore shoes in the middle of summer. Shoes were wearisome enough when it was cold, but in the heat of summer they were ridiculous, and I still hold to that premise. She also made me dress in a clean dress every single day, and she usually sent me home to change in the middle of the day because I became “so bedraggled.” And I hadn’t the faintest notion of what it meant to be bedraggled or how I got that way.

In the country, I—along with every kid I knew—wore the same shorts and T-shirt all week long (day and night) until Saturday evening when bath time rolled around. Everyone KNEW that Saturday evening was bath time because you had to be clean for church on Sunday. My Mama Granny had a whole different set of rules. Rule number one: Don’t embarrass me with poor manners or being dirty. Rule number two: Go take a bath.

Needless to say, I was ready to go home the first day, and she was ready for me to go home before that. It was a long week, living in dread of embarrassing my high society Mama Granny. All was not lost though, for I did find one thing quite fascinating. The bathroom where I had to take baths several times every day was located in the back of the house. And there in the back hall was a tall chest of drawers. I accidently discovered that the drawers were stuffed with all kinds of mesmerizing things. Since Mama Granny’s store was basically off limits because “I could NOT keep my hands off the merchandise,” I spent a lot of time alone tugging open those swollen, hard-to-open drawers, breathing in the musty, damp odors that spoke of mysteries past, looking through, handling, and trying on the whole shebang. Girdles from yesteryear, garters, stomach braces, bras turned yellow with age, lace and ribbons, dresses and shoes, and hats galore were carefully stored away, waiting for little old me. I tried on everything (many at the same time), finding most of the “undies” quite perplexing—where were they supposed to go and in what direction? Broken jewelry and dried-out makeup found new life in my hands. With each new addition to my attire, I would climb to stand in the old bathroom sink in order to admire myself in the small, blurry mirror. It is amazing I did not fall considering I was often wearing the layering of six bras, two girdles, a garter around my neck, smushed hat of many flowers upon my head, and an oversized dress (she was fat) while ascending the great height, plus the precarious stretch from the tub to arrive safely in the deep, old sink. But my determination to see my beautiful, grown-up self made me persevere, and I was rewarded with images stamped deep into my memories. The hall grew full of all that strange, marvelous paraphernalia, and I was lost in the never-never land of untouchables. The amazing thing is that I never got caught, so I doubt that she ever knew of my grand capers. And I KNOW I never told, not even after I grew up, at least until now.

After her death several years later, the family gathered to go through the contents of her house. My parents were discussing with my aunts what part of the house each would go through to box up. Without thought I quickly answered for my daddy, “We will take the back hall.” Both aunts, and to be honest, my own parents, looked at me suspiciously, obviously wondering but carefully not voicing, “What does she know that we do not?” Neither silver nor gold nor any precious thing was within those damp drawers, but the odds and ends from a different era still held me captive. However, this article is about the Grandma Caper, not the “Little Dab” (my nickname when I was very young) Caper. It is a necessary foundation in helping you understand a thing or two about being a granny.

I bet you didn’t think a Pearl grandkid could act like that, did you? Surprise!

I think back to my Mama Granny and I know that I do not want to be that kind of grandmother. I felt she cared more about what people thought of me than she cared ABOUT ME. I will do better. So when my daughters needed to go on a ten-day business/pleasure trip to Hawaii with Plexus, we discussed how many grands I could handle and still be able to work at No Greater Joy. They settled on four, three from Shalom’s family and one from Shoshanna’s. In the days preceding, I made up my mind: I would be the most loving, available, capable, captivating granny that has ever been.

Hello, reality. At the end of the first day, after the children had gone to bed, I wearily began to clean up. My hardwood floors were covered with wet towels and bathing suits, the bathrooms were full of dirty clothes; there wasn’t a set of matching shoes anywhere, crayons crunched under foot, and papers, books, and stuff were scattered everywhere. I washed three loads of clothes the very first evening. The next morning no one agreed on the menu and one child didn’t want to eat. As I rushed to clear the table, my brain began to recall something that I had read—or maybe I wrote it—on organizing and managing. Oh yes, I did remember that simple formula. As I recall, it was an important key to a happy childhood, because children would feel more relaxed when they knew their boundaries. I knew that my days as a passive, subservient granny were over.

I lined the kids up and made a few rules. Rule number ONE: You will be given ONE towel, ONE bathing suit, and ONE chair. You will change your play clothes in the outer bathroom and then put them on your chair and cover them with your towel. When you are finished swimming you will change out of your bathing suit in the outer bathroom, hang your wet suit on your chair, and hang your towel to dry over the chair. Anyone “losing” their towel and needing another will not swim the next time. Anyone “losing” their suit will not swim the next time. Anyone “losing” their dry clothes or allowing them to get wet will not swim the next time. It’s AMAZING what kids can remember when they are organized and managed.

Rule number TWO: Each child has their own cup (color coded) and will use that cup every time they need a drink, even at meals. AMAZING how they kept up with their cups and how this small rule cut down on dirty dishes. They seemed to prefer their own cup. I was feeling successful.

Children feel more relaxed when they know their boundaries.

All was well until the morning of the fourth day. I decided to forego the fresh-cooked meal for cereal, since they had all been asking for “Rice Paddies,” which is Penelope’s name for Rice Krispies. I set out a stack of four bowls (three green and one blue) and four spoons. The next 45 seconds held a loud, demanding, emotionally charged exchange of bowls. I watched as the offending blue bowl changed hands four times before it finally rested in front of Penelope. It took me a few seconds to adjust to the new atmosphere of conflict and understand the cause of the ruckus. The expressions on the faces of the other three children told me they had aggressively forced her to take the lesser thing. I bet you didn’t think a PEARL grandkid could act like that, did you? How about FOUR grandkids? SURPRISE! Evidently no one wanted to be the lone-man-out, which being interpreted means, use the blue bowl. The bowls are exactly alike except for the color, so I didn’t really understand the conflict, but I knew it was time to take charge. First, I looked at the three satisfied kids who each held a green bowl, and then I looked Penelope in the eyes, making sure she saw my “put-on” heartbreak that she was forced to use the blue bowl, and I asked, “Is it really important to you that you not use the blue bowl?” She let me know she was willing to take the lesser thing but was heartbroken.

Smiling, I stood and looked over the table of expectant children waiting for me to be King Solomon and magically make the blue bowl green. “Ok, everyone back in bed. I will call you when I have finished cooking breakfast. No cereal today.”

All four children sat as if turned into pillars of salt until Laila, being 9 years old and the eldest of the lot, spoke up with a tone of incredulousness that reflected her face. “Are you kidding?”

It was funny how surprised they were, but I answered wisely as an adult who was organizing and managing. “No, you have only been out of bed ten minutes, so back to bed you go. I will call you when breakfast is ready.”

They watched as Big Papa quickly got up and exited the room, walking into his office and shutting the door. It seemed to give them the cue, so they followed suit. I took my time making eggs and bagels, setting the table, hum-hawing around until a good 15 minutes had passed. All this time I had not heard a peep. It was as if they had all gone back to sleep or were shocked into silence; either way it was delightfully pleasing. I called out, “Breakfast is ready.” Three doors opened and out marched Big Papa, then the boys, and lastly the girls. They quietly slipped into their seats, put their hands in their laps, and waited for Big Papa to give thanks.

For all those who have wondered if I have lost my touch and gone soft in my old age, well, this is for the record: I can still organize and manage. But tomorrow morning I will set out four bowls—red, yellow, blue, and green—and we will eat Rice Paddies. And there will be no complaints.