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Lex, the Great Little Guy, is growing up fast

I called by daughter in Jamaica the night before last and got a pleasant surprise.

Through the beauty of Skype and video phone calls, I had an opportunity to see my favorite grandson — Lexington Wesley Kastner — enjoying himself in the bathtub. Lex celebrated his first birthday 11 days ago, and he also has grown his first tooth and taken his first steps.

Maddie and Lex

This is one happy little guy.

Whether he’s playing with his sister, or with his parents or just sitting there by himself, he always seems to have a big smile on his face. He’s also all boy. When you look at pictures of him, all the way back to the beginning, there’s no doubt that this is a boy who is going to grow up to be quite a man.

It’s a funny thing about time. The next 12 months will pass very slowly for Lex. They’ll be 50 percent of his life so far. But they’ll pass very rapidly for me, making up less than 2 percent of my my life so far.

Very strange.

I’m looking forward to spending some time with young Lex in a couple of months. We’re planning to spend some time in Jamaica this winter, and we’re looking forward to seeing both Lex and his big sister Maddie, our favorite granddaughter. That’s the nice thing about having just two grandchildren. They can both be favorites.

When Maddie was born, we called her the Amazing Baby.

I guess Lex can be the Great Little Guy.


posted by Mike in Family,Happiness,love and have No Comments

My computer always shows me her smiling face


Whenever I boot my computer up, this is what I see.

My screensaver picture, which changes from time to time, almost always is a picture of my granddaughter Maddie, who is now 2 1/2 going on 3.

Maddie has one thing in common with her lovely mother, which is that they are both extremely photogenic and both have wonderful smiles.

I hadn’t even realized it, because I see her courtesy of Skype just about every weekend, but it has actually been more than 15 months — Christmas 2009 — since I have seen her in person, and it will likely be this fall before I see her again.

That makes me sad, but it’s strange. Just the idea of Maddie makes me happy. Just the idea that there is a wonderful little girl out there who calls me “Grandpa” gives me a really good feeling.

I never knew Pauline or Virgile when they were 2 going on 3, but I have seen the pictures and it’s pretty obvious to me that both of them were adorable. One of the shortcomings of being a stepfather is that you usually don’t get to be there from the beginning. You get there in the middle of the movie and all you can do is enjoy it for what it is.

And what it is, is wonderful.

posted by Mike in Family,Happiness,love and have No Comments

Coming soon: Another Amazing Baby

Could there be anything more wonderful when you’re 61 years old than learning that you’re going to have another grandchild?

Wonderful Maddie

For the last 2 1/2 years, I have been Madison Kastner’s grandfather, and while it has been wonderful to be a husband and a parent, there is something so special about being “Grandpa.”

My daughter Pauline’s plan all along was to have her second child about three years after the first, and it was a couple of months ago when she and Ryan started trying.

Last week she called us from Surabaya, Indonesia, and told us that the bun, so to speak, was in the oven. Their second child, our second grandchild, is due November 11th. Since Pauline can’t get the best hospital care where she’s currently stationed, they will be returning to the United States at the end of September so that she can give birth in Seattle.

They will be in the U.S. for three months and return to Indonesia at the end of the calendar year.

We’ll go out there in November, both to spend some time with Maddie and her parents and to meet our newest grandchild.

It has been a long time since I have looked forward to anything as much.

Can there really be two Amazing Babies?

posted by Mike in Family,Happiness and have No Comments

More joy, more wonder as Maddie grows

Is there anything in the world that brings more happiness to the heart than the pure joy of a 2-year-old grandchild?

Maddie in the water.

It has been nearly a year since I have seen little Maddie in person, and she is exactly halfway around the world — 12 time zones away — from me at present. But I have written before about how Skype and my daughter Pauline’s wonderful willingness to keep in close touch have made a huge difference in that area.

In fact, between Skype and Facebook, we spent three days last weekend keeping up with Maddie’s toilet training. She’s not quite 2 1/2 years old yet, but apparently she’s doing as terrific a job at that as she has at all the other phases of her development.

I don’t remember my own toilet training, which I assume is good. I have a feeling the only way you would remember something like that is if it had been extremely traumatic. I have at least one friend who is so anal retentive that I think he must have been toilet trained at gunpoint.

But back to the point.

The thing that’s so strange for me right now in watching Maddie develop is that she is so bright and eager and so involved in everything, but she’s still at a stage in her life where she won’t remember any of it when she is older.

That’s why parents shoot videos, and why grandfathers write about their grandchildren.

That and for the sheer joy of it.

posted by Mike in Family,Happiness,love and have No Comments

Keeping in close touch with the Amazing Baby

Maddie from Indonesia

She’s almost 2.

When you ask my granddaughter Madison Nicole how old she is, that’s the answer she gives.

“Almost 2.”

In fact, pretty Maddie will be 2 in six more days, and in that short time she has already lived in three different countries. Maddie was born in Beijing, spent a year in Washington, D.C., and now is enjoying life in Surabaya, Indonesia.

That kid is going to have one fascinating life.

You can’t imagine how wonderful it is when we connect on our weekend calls. Maddie’s little face lights up when the video connection is made and she says, “Hi, grandpa!”

I’ve written about the wonders of Skype before, and it really is amazing to be able to make phone calls with video across 14 time zones. It can get sort of annoying when the video sort of freezes up, but I’m probably asking for too much for it to be perfect all the time. Calls are dropped occasionally, but no more often than cellphone calls were a few years ago.

What fascinates me, what is so different from my relationship with my grandparents when I was her age (back in 1952), is that I will be able to see her, hear her and watch as she grows from week to week. When we talked the other night, she showed me a game that she and her parents are playing. Pauline and Ryan put Maddie into an empty laundry basket and rock it back and forth while singing “Row, row, row your boat.”

This time she got into the basket and Pauline rocked her while I did the singing.

This is so much fun.

posted by Mike in Family,Happiness,love and have No Comments

Amazing baby in SoCal — and I’m not

This weekend is the one weekend of my two months in Texas that I regret not beging home in California.

This is the weekend my lovely daughter Pauline, my son-in-law Ryan and the Amazing Baby Maddie are visiting from Washington, D.C., shortly before leaving for three years in Indonesia. Pauline is in Southern California because one of her closest friends has something special happening — some sort of shower, I think — and they will be spending four days with Nicole.

My girls

It isn’t as if we haven’t seen them. We spent two weeks with them in Washington state last August and a weekend in California in November when they came for Virgile’s wedding. Then we spent two weeks in Virginia with them over Christmas.

But at Maddie’s age (20 months last week), she is changing so rapidly that we see something different every time.

And to think that we’ll see so little of her during the three years in Indonesia, that’s really wrenching.

It isn’t just Maddie, either. I truly enjoy spending time with Pauline. My daughter has always been special, but watching her as a mother these last two years shows me what a truly amazing person she really is.

I could not be more proud of her, and I will certainly be thinking of her this weekend as my personal Battle of the Bulge continues here in South Texas.

posted by Mike in California,Family,Happiness,love and have No Comments

Amazing baby definitely growing up fast

I am always amazed by how lucky I am to be a grandparent in the 21st century.

My granddaughter was born on the other side of the world, but I heard her voice before she had been in this world for 10 minutes. She slept on my chest when she was only 10 days old, and I have received constant updates through Facebook and e-mails for the last year and a half. I have actually had the opportunity to spend about nine weeks with her so far — in Beijing, Los Angeles, Seattle and Washington, D.C. — and little Maddie never fails to amaze me.

Maddie and Pauline

Of course, neither does her mother.

I can honestly say I have never seen anyone show more patience, more love and more consistency with an infant than Pauline has. She and her husband Ryan have done everything they can to make Maddie feel both loved and safe, and it shows.

One thing I really appreciate is that she seems to love books, even though she can’t read yet. She sits and turns the pages herself, and when I was visiting at Christmas, she brought book after book for me to read to her. Since she will be growing up overseas for at least two years out of every three, she probably won’t pick up the unfortunate habit of watching American television.

Maddie was walking before she was a year old, and she is talking up a storm now. When you look into her eyes, you can tell there’s someone home there. I have a feeling she will grow up to be a very intelligent young lady.

Given the mother, the grandmother and the great grandmother she has, three amazing women, I don’t see how she could possbly be anything else.

posted by Mike in Family,Happiness,love and have No Comments

Life is wonderful with grandchildren

I defy anyone to interact with a baby and not feel good about the world.

Pauline and baby MaddieI spent the better part of two weeks with my lovely daughter and my wonderful granddaughter, and I feel extremely happy that I have been able to share so much of Maddie’s first 16 months on Earth.

Ten days in Beijing, three weeks in Los Angeles, two weeks in Washington State and two weeks in Northern Virginia isn’t bad, although the odds are pretty good that I won’t be able to spend any more time with her in person in 2010. We won’t be going back to Virginia until autumn at the earliest, and Maddie and her parents will be leaving for three years in Indonesia in late June.

Once Nicole is retired, we expect to be traveling to see each of our kids and their families at least once at every posting they have as Foreign Service officers. We’re only one out of two so far — we visited Pauline and her family in China but not in Cameroon. Whether we make all the postings from now on depends at least a little on where they go. We’ll visit Virgile at his first posting in Greece, but if he winds up in some -stan country after that, we’re not promising anything.

Of course once Virgile and Sterling start giving us grandchildren, all bets are off.

Pauline and Ryan are talking about having a second child during the tour in Indonesia, but I think Maddie will still be the star of the show for a few more years at least. She’s walking, talking and doing a pretty good impression of reading books (she turns the pages and points at the pictures). She has also learned to applaud and say “Bravo,” which is pretty impressive.

In the picture above, she had her first visit to the Kennedy Center for a special children’s show.

By all accounts, she enjoyed herself.

I’m sure everyone with her did as well.

How could they not?

posted by Mike in Family,Happiness,love,Travel and have No Comments

It’s fascinating to watch a child grow

Life is very strange when the most interesting person in the world is only coming up on her 14th birthday — 14 months, that is.

The Amazing Baby

The Amazing Baby

This Thursday, Nov. 19th, my granddaughter Maddie will be one years and two months old. She’s walking, displaying a fascinating variety of facial expressions and pulling books and DVDs off the shelves like mad.

The only thing she isn’t really doing yet is talking.

We saw little Maddie and her parents last weekend, and we’ll see them again in Washington, D.C., for Christmas. I know I’m acting like this is the first baby in the world — after all, they’re born every day and there might even be one somewhere as pretty or as smart as Maddie — but you have to understand this is all a first for me.

I missed out on my own children’s infancy, and I don’t really remember much about my younger siblings at that age. I imagine I was a lot more preoccupied with my own life in those pre-puberty days.

With Maddie I heard her cry over the phone when she was 10 minutes old, and I held her in my arms when she was 10 days old. I have seen her numerous times since then, and what I haven’t seen in person I’ve seen in the photos and the videos posted on Facebook.

I can hardly wait for her to learn to talk, to learn to read and write and all the other things that come along with childhood. My daughter Pauline tells me that Maddie already loves books, and I’m happy to know her parents intend to raise her on the written word and not on television.

Who knows? By the time she grows up, she might be the proverbial one-eyed person in the land of the blind when it comes to literacy.

However it all turns out for her, I won’t stop watching.

posted by Mike in Family,love and have No Comments

Memories of Halloween can’t be found

I don’t have a whole lot of memories, good or bad, of Halloween.

I can’t remember a single costume I ever wore for trick or treating. What’s worse, I can’t even remember a single costume either one of my children wore. In fact, the only memory I have of a Halloween celebration was a party I attended in St. Louis in 1985. It was the night of the seventh game of the ’85 World Series between St. Louis and Kansas City, and most of the crowd — including my date — was in the living room watching the game.

The cutest pirates

The cutest pirates

I was in the next room, carrying on a conversation with a very attractive woman in a Bo Peep costume. Yes, that’s all it was, a conversation.

But last Halloween was little Maddie’s first, and even though she was only about six weeks old, we bought her a ladybug costume that looked totally adorable on her. She’ll never remember it, but someday she’ll enjoy looking at the picture.

This year the world’s prettiest baby is a little more than a year old, and since her birthday came on a day called “International Talk Like a Pirate Day” — yes, they really have that — her costume this year is as the world’s littlest buccaneer.

She won’t rememebr this one, either, but I hope she’ll be luckier than me and eventually remember at least a couple of her favorite Halloweens.

I wonder why I don’t have any memories of it. Maybe I’m blocking. Maybe I was molested by a Jack o’ Lantern.

Nah, I think I’m just getting to the point where my brain is filling up completely and the stupid stuff is driving out some of the childhood memories.

I remember the theme to the Brady Bunch, even though I didn’t even like the show.

But I can’t remember Halloween.


posted by Mike in Family,Holidays and have No Comments
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