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Back to something like normal

The recent holiday was almost normal.

For much of the day, we were nine: our daughters and sons-in-law, the three grandchildren, my husband and me, all of us vaxxed, vaxxed again, and boosted. Covid tests had been taken. We were good to celebrate.

The grandchildren opened their gifts from their grandparents and their respective aunt and uncle, we brunched — not, as I’d envisioned, in a brunchy sit-anywhere kind of way, but gathered around the table because, as it turned out, nobody wanted to be anywhere but with everybody else — and we took a breather before the dessert round.

Games were played — new ones, received that day, and old ones, including chess, because my grandsons and their father are involved in an endless cycle of “I play winner!” Children not playing chess took turns being closed up in a large cardboard box that had held a gift, and if playing with a box in the aftermath of gift-opening wasn’t a comment on the predictability of kids, may I never see one.

It was like being in a warm, cinnamon-tinged lap all day, and never was this feeling more apparent than when I sat down to read aloud one of the books my husband and I had given our five-year-old grandson, a graphic novel by Scott Christian Sava illustrated by Alison Acton called Animal Crackers. Instantly, as if drawn by powerful magnets, we were joined by the two eight-year-olds.

Since seeing the graphic part of a graphic novel is all-important, jockeying for good viewing spots was necessary. Finally, the two older kids took turns draping themselves along the back of the couch and viewing the pages as if from the mezzanine. This worked well.

In the story, Owen and his sister, Zoe, are going to the circus with Uncle Doug. On the way in, Zoe visits with several caged animals who apparently tell her they’re being mistreated by the evil ringmaster. Owen balks at saving animals when there’s a circus to be seen, but he accepts a box of animal crackers from a woman who tells them they’ll come in handy.

I must mention that the woman spoke in a kind of tortured dialect I associate with old Nancy Drew books, in which Black people or people of Hispanic heritage speak an almost incomprehensible patois invented by the writers of the series. (“I’s just a plain culled man” a character in The Secret of the Old Clock says. I actually flinched when I read it.)

The circus woman said “leetle” too often for me, and I delivered her lines straight. I expected the older cousins to point out my failure to read what was on the page, but they didn’t. I give them credit for cultural sentience, because of course I do. I’m their grandma. I’d give them credit for saving leatherback turtles if I could.

Uncle Doug and Zoe are kidnapped by a trio of trapeze artists, but Owen is spared, thanks to his decision to eat an animal cracker hamster as the acrobats are swooping in. He becomes a hamster, and hilarity ensues. “I’m a hamster!” Owen says in the first of three memorable frames. In the next, he’s contemplating what he just said. Then, “I’m a talking hamster!”

All in all, it was a juicy story, with funny scenes involving animals, most of which are the animal cracker-eating Owen. In the denouement, Owen as an elephant squishes the ringmaster. (Not, I assume, fatally.)

We followed the circus tale with another Christmas gift, a compendium of Calvin and Hobbes comic strips. These kids adore Calvin and Hobbes; the five-year-old, in fact, was Calvin for Halloween, complete with a dead ringer of the toy version of Hobbes. I’d go so far as to say my youngest grandchild has taken Calvin and Hobbes so fully to heart that the books have to be removed from his possession when he forgets that what’s funny in comic strips is not necessarily appropriate in real life.

Meanwhile, around us, the holiday continued. My husband and a daughter snapped pictures of our reading session, of which I was aware only when they shared them later. I’d say there’s nothing better than a good book, but in fact, there is something better: sharing a good book with those you love most. In that respect, our holiday was absolutely, one hundred percent normal, and we are grateful.

Margo Bartlett
Margo Bartlett
Margo Bartlett wrote, copy-edited, and proofread for newspapers for nearly thirty years and currently does occasional freelance writing and editing. She previously worked for a school book fair company, which offered her the chance to catch up on children’s and YA literature, her favorite genres.

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