Oh my cow

My 5 year old granddaughter Charlise coined that phrase – I think it’s a combination of “oh my gosh” and “holy cow”.  But that’s the enchantment of being a 5 year old.  You can make up your own words or phrases and use them with complete abandon.  No one would ever think to say to her, “don’t you mean…?” 

Charlise has a spirit and confidence that most adults would envy.  She “knows” what she means and it’s your job to figure it out.  She embraces each day as an adventure and makes the most commonplace experiences seem exciting and new.  She has glee!  And I love spending time with her because sometimes I get to “come along for the ride”.  Recently we went to see a high school production of Cinderella and her enthusiasm and delight made me want to be a five year-old again (if only for that evening).  Watching her wait in anticipation of the applause was sheer joy!

My Aunt Gene Marie is a 91 year old nun.  After 70 years of religious life and 45 plus years of teaching she is now struggling with Alzheimer’s.  She was once a math and religion teacher, a principal, and a librarian.  Today she spends her days in quiet prayer.  But she remains joyful! 

It occurs to me that in many ways Aunt Gene and Charlise are eclipsing one another.  As Charlise’s world becomes more and more grown-up she is losing some of her innocence.  Some of her unbridled spirit is being diluted by her need to ‘fit in’ with friends and pre-school classmates.  I know that this is normal peer pressure and necessary socialization but soon she will know that “oh my cow” is not something that EVERYONE says and I’m afraid it will be lost.  Aunt Gene is becoming increasingly confused about names, places and current events.  She can tell you in great detail about her first day at Sacred Heart School in Florissant 85 years ago but she likely does not know what she ate for lunch today.  She is beginning to abandon accepted social norms in favor of expressing herself in a way that she chooses – with sometimes amusing results.  In a way she is like a preschooler using familiar names and themes to relate to a larger outside world.  And she possesses an innocence now that is both beautiful and heartbreaking. 

And so it goes…

Charlise is growing up and becoming an independent little person.  She has security and confidence in her world.  All too soon, she will be in ‘real school’ and she will be influenced by teachers, classmates, coaches, friends’ parents, etc.  Her world will get bigger and bigger.

Aunt Gene will continue to descend into the murky waters of dementia and lose more and more contact with the outside world.  Meanwhile her sphere of influence is becoming increasingly smaller.  But like Charlise, she has glee!  She isn’t sad about her situation – and that’s a blessing.  And I like spending time with her because sometimes I get to “come along for the ride”, too. 

God’s hand is at work in all of this, protecting them both.  Now I must let go of my need to keep things as they are.  Oh my cow!

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