Grandparenting In the Video Age

HERE she is, all 20 pounds of her, strutting across the livingroom floor, a pint-size John Wayne. She's 12 months old and she's starting to walk. Forget hands and knees, it's on to the big time. She's panting she's so excited. Her eyes are fixed on her goal - that fat, green, velvety sofa she likes to bury her face in. ``Come to Mommy, Elizabeth.''

The baby sees her daddy's shoe lying by the sofa and plops down right there to taste it.

Here's our tracker again. The shoe has disappeared, and someone has turned her around and set her within the video camera's range. Her mother beckons her to come, but this time the obstacles in her path have been swept away. Elizabeth chugs ahead, rocking side to side and paddling the air to keep her balance, honing in on the big black box on the other side of the room like a missile to a target. Nothing will stop her now. What's a bite of shoe leather compared to this?

We all had to learn to walk once. I can't remember my daughter's first steps, nor how many shoes got in her way. That was 25 years ago. She did so many memorable things for the second and third acts - connecting words into sentence, eating with knife and fork, reading her first ABC book - that the act of walking was soon taken for granted. I kept a small Instamatic camera in the drawer for special occasions, and I wrote down the milestones in her baby book.

Two reels of Super 8-mm film gathered dust in our closet for 12 years. We took home movies for a while, reluctantly. The camera had been a gift and it soon got in the way of our fun, the bright lights became a nuisance to manipulate. We only watched the movies when relatives visited, or when understanding friends we hadn't seen in a long time came over.

Recently, I had those old rolls of Super 8 transformed into videotape. My daughter was 8 years old in those silent, unfocused movies. It was a delightful experience to see the past fly by, my mini skirts and long hair, my husband's bell-bottom trousers, my daughter with her favorite cat, frisky, and those three, sharp-clawed kittens. Born in the dirty clothes pile, the three little kittens entered the world in front of an audience, rescuing me from those nagging ``Mommy, where do I come from?'' questions.

Lately I can't seem to get enough of the last videotape my daughter sent. In this medium, nobody squints because of the bright lights and every detail is in perfect focus. I can hear the bird chirping from the kitchen, the telephone ring, even the fire engine tearing down the street. It is a slice of life my daughter and her husband are used to providing me by this time. They were married on video, took it with them to the Grand Canyon on their honeymoon, and into the maternity ward, one year ago when Elizabeth was born.

This latest Academy-Award winner was taken over a three-week period, a quantum leap in a year old's calendar of accomplishments: the three-minute-mile power crawl; the lock-kneed ``I'll stand up, won't sit down under any circumstances'' position; the walk along the couch; the jaunt off on her own; the inspection of a new pair of white lace-up shoes; the trip to the petting zoo. This chronicle has taken the place of my food fix after work, my early-morning radio talk show during breakfast, and my cup of cocoa at 3:30 a.m.

I've spent hours looking for just the right gifts for this child. Gifts from Grandma that won't be like any other. But never had I had the pleasure of seeing them opened at the other end, 850 miles away, as I do now. The first birthday gift was a felt alphabet mural with small pockets containing soft, stuffed animals and objects standing for each letter. It had a dowel stretched across the top so it could be hung on the wall or a doorknob.

Elizabeth talked to it, walked on it, pulled out a handful of prizes - ``S'' for sun, ``E'' for elephant, ``G'' for girl - and tried to put them back. She squatted down and surveyed it, picked it up by one corner and dragged it across the rug in her room and put it on her rocking chair, took out the ice cream cone and a handful of others, and then - this is the exciting part - did it all over again, 100 times.

My daughter wants me to hear the baby's first words. She wants to show me how smart she is, but getting her to perform on camera is difficult. For some reason, her vocabulary disappears when Mother asks for it.

``Where is your hair, Elizabeth? Point to your hair.''

Elizabeth takes a rag doll and steps on it. She is headed for the shoe again.

``Elizabeth, show Mommy your foot. Where's your foot?''

I bet this is the first time she has worn that dress. It is pink-dotted Swiss and is much too long to walk in. The bow that is taped to her hair bites the dust.

``Elizabeth, didn't you want your bow? Where is your nose, Elizabeth? Show Mommy your nose.''

The little thoroughbred heads for the kitchen. Her dad is sawing something out on the back porch. She can hear the commotion and she knows her daddy is out there. Elizabeth adeptly scoops up her plastic flute from the floor and stands at the back door pressing her nose to the screen.

``How big are you, Elizabeth?''

Up shoot the hands over the head, and then down again. She did it!

``Yeaaaaa for Elizabeth,'' Mommy applauds.

Daddy stops sawing and comes to the door. ``Toot your flute,'' he says, smiling proudly.

The fat little fingers poise flute to lips. ``Toot, toot.''

Her parents cheer.

She sees them laugh and she laughs, too, and then does it again, only louder. ``Toot, toot, toot.''

As I stand at the kitchen table in my stocking feet, surrounded by grocery bags and the morning's leftover dishes, my dog jumps up to say hello. She's been waiting all day for me to come home from work so she can be let outside.

I pick up the remote control. ``Click.''

``Elizabeth, toot your flute for Grandma.''

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