By Gerald “Strib” Stribling
Since I used to be a Kindergarten teacher, I have known many little girls, and in particular, Asian little girls.
I have a Buddhist Sunday school full of them. Like Mark Twain, I unabashedly associate with little girls, because they’re the best company there one can find. And now I have my own little cadre of granddaughters—three of them, in fact. All hens, no cocks. A lot of times I have a hard time maintaining my Buddhist composure when they’re around, and sometimes I lose it altogether, and that makes me feel bad.
What kind of Buddhist am I to get pissed off at a seven-year-old? Pearl. My arch-nemesis. The one who knows all the buttons to push. I’ll get back to Pearl in a bit.
My son’s two girls, Thing One and Thing Two, can trash a room like nobody’s business. Thing One takes after her mother, who is Cuban and Colombian. She’s tiny, with dark auburn hair and enormous dark eyes. Her sister, Thing Two, takes after my son, who is about 6’5 and almost ate us into bankruptcy in high school. Thing Two is an enormous toddler with very white skin and light blonde curly hair; they don’t look even vaguely related to each other. Thing One eats like a bird, and Thing Two eats constantly. Their parents have learned to feed them on the fly—whenever one moves past a parent, she gets a chicken nugget stuffed into her mouth. They never stop moving, not even when they’re asleep.
Pearl is seven now. We’ve hated each other since she was two. She bullies me all the time—not anybody else, just me. As a rule I don’t like bullies, and have delivered a sock in the jaw to a few of them. But I can’t punch Pearl. She’s just a little girl.
They don’t call me Grandpa, they call me “Grumpy.”
It’s all by design, of course. The arch-enemy game is real, but Pearl is a strong-willed little girl when she’s around family. She’s an angel at school, of course. I could see it all coming since I have a masters degree in child development, and pegged her as oppositional-defiant when she was six months old. But she has a compassionate streak a mile wide. I think she must be like the girl in the movie Clueless when she was seven.
Pearl and I are co-conspirators, and I have made it incumbent upon myself to corrupt her. She is the only person other than myself allowed in my man cave, which is full of hazards, including guns, knives, and fish hooks. Actually, I lock the guns up when there are little girls about, except for my Civil War pistol, and that is how little girls know what to do if they see a gun (don’t touch, get a grownup), and how to be around sharp things without hacking off a finger.
She’s always up for an argument, and has marched in several protests, including the Women’s March in D.C. It’s fun to piss her off. She only gets bratty when she’s tired, so when I’m tempted to kick her, we go meditate together. Five minutes of meditation, and she turns back into Pleasant Pearl. Pleasant Pearl is still the Queen of Everything, it’s just the Evil Queen you have to avoid.
It’s interesting what happens when you pick up a sentient being and put them back down in a foreign environment, like my idiot city dog who turns into a guardian of the galaxy on camping trips. Pearl is my favorite fishing buddy, and when she’s fishing, she’s intense. It’s one of the few times you can get her to shut up (she never shuts up…never). We got skunked one time when we went for trout, but she stuck with the expedition for four solid hours, and even fished through a rain storm. Of course she was already wet because she fell into the lake as soon as we got there.
When Pearl is in Louisville she goes to Sunday School with my wife on Sunday morning, and then Buddhist Sunday School with me in the afternoon. Once her Christian Sunday School teacher asked her to show her how she prayed, and she sat cross-legged on the floor with her hands resting on her knees making little “O”s with her fingers and thumbs, and closed her eyes.
She likes going to Buddhist Sunday School because of Yon.
Yon is one of my little Burmese girls. Yon never shuts up. Never. Neither does Pearl. It is a wondrous thing to behold when they get together, because it is total nonstop jibber-jabber. I like it, because if they didn’t have each other to jibber-jabber to, they’d be jibber-jabbering at me.
Otherwise, when Pearl’s around, I’m Science Grumpy.
It started back when she was three and we began a course in entomology, because I didn’t want her to be afraid of bugs. I’ve bought her microscopes and telescopes and bug collection kits and chemistry sets. We need these props, because otherwise, Pearl and I get into trouble (because we’re co-conspirators). My favorite prank was when I gave her a dummy hand grenade and told her to give it to her great-grandma.
She’s coming for two weeks this summer. After her week’s indoctrination at Vacation Bible School, we’re going to get into some serious invertebrate paleontology and pond scum analysis. And when I can get her to pledge never to tell her mother, we might get in a little BB rifle shooting. It’s science—the physics of air compression, the geometry of aiming, the neurobiology of not flinching.
For the longest time, being a Buddhist grandpa just meant that I wouldn’t fling them to the floor while they climbed all over me. I was, and still am, a human jungle gym. I remember thinking just a few years ago, “I’m too old for this shit.”
But Pearl’s favorite movie to watch with Grumpy is Despicable Me 2, and Thing One reads bedtime stories to me. I’m still Pearl’s favorite patient when she digs out her doctor’s kit.
Thing One is brilliant and probably needs to be home schooled; she is as shy as the two others are gregarious. I’m not too sure about Thing Two because she will only come to me if I have a chicken leg in my hand, but the other two are cuddlers and plaster themselves against me when we’re watching some kind of corrupting influence on TV when there are no censors about (you know, shows with commercials). Shows with stupidity, like Spongebob Squarepants, the biggest collection of morons since Animal House. And great action films like Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure and Shanghai Noon. Last night Thing Two and I split an order of french fries.
I don’t know. Some grandparents give their grandkids toys. I like to give mine rocks. I am sure our relationships will change as they grow up, but I am clueless as to what role, if any, I will play in their lives. I will be sure to sit with each of them and watch Moonrise Kingdom (one of my favorite romantic comedies) with them when they’re 10, so they’ll know the right way to fall in love. But I’m new at this, and not sure what else to do.
Right now I’ll be glad for them to quit climbing all over me.
Photo: taken by Strib’s granddaughter
Editor: Dana Gornall