Spending an overnight with my 96-year-old mother is like staying at a spa. Flo keeps the thermostat in her apartment at sauna-high temperatures. She rarely drinks coffee or alcohol and offers green tea to guests. She doesn’t have a computer or wi-fi at her place, and there’s no T.V. in the living room. She creates a peaceful atmosphere by stacking traditional jazz and Christmas music on her record changer, sitting back in her favorite comfy chair and encouraging guests to take in the sounds of her console hi-fi with her. And then, when night comes, the slow, deliberate moves Flo makes to get ready for bed allows her guests plenty of quiet time to sit on the couch and meditate.
Whitney and I had a slumber party with Flo last Thursday night, and I was still in my nightgown finishing the traditional Spa Flo heart-healthy oatmeal breakfast when Chauffeur Cheryl showed up yesterday morning to deliver me to her granddaughter’s school.
My great-niece AnnMarie Florence Czerwinski is the only offspring in our entire family to be blessed with my mom’s beautiful name. Her birthday was yesterday, and although she’s a big seven years old now, I still refer to her as “Baby Flo.” Baby Flo’s elementary school is relatively close to Spa Flo, and Whitney and I visited Westmore Elementary School yesterday in honor of AnnMarie’s birthday.
Realizing I wouldn’t be able to see when her schoolfriends raised their hands, the birthday girl volunteered to accompany me to all three first-grade classrooms. “Questions?” she’d ask. “Anyone have questions?” AnnMarie is not a shy child. Allowing her the opportunity to stand in front of class and choose who got to go next was the best birthday gift ever.
The first-graders had all read Hanni and Beth: Safe & Sound before we arrived, which meant they had time to come up with some pretty thoughtful questions. Examples:
- “What happens if you go to the library and the book you want isn’t there in Braille?
- Why do you need a dog instead of a white stick?
- What if you go to the library and they told you no dogs allowed?
- What if you ate food and it wasn’t what you wanted and you asked for your money back?
- What if the dog is blind and the person can see?
- How do you know what your dog looks like?
- What was the last color you could see before you went blind?
Whitney was as spirited as the students we visited, sneaking out from under me to lick a first-grader in the front row, and somehow managing to roll over – even with her harness on — to beg the kids for a belly rub. We had a ball celebrating Baby Flo’s birthday at Westmore School, but I’ll be honest: two-and-a-half hours with first graders left me yearning for one more night at Spa Flo.