“This. It doesn’t get better than this… Family!” my grandson shouted as he shot up from the cool, green waters of the lake into my arms. Water streamed down his face and his eyes sparkled above a huge grin that stretched his mouth near to breaking point. A piece of seaweed dangled jauntily from his left ear. I could hear his sister laughing uproariously off to my left and I glanced over to see her being launched through the air by our cousin. Family. Indeed!
We had escaped to a nearby lake to seek respite from the afternoon heat and to get out from under their dad’s flurry of packing up. In the morning the kids would fly back East with him for the annual gathering of his relations, and most importantly, to rendezvous with their mom who will be returning from Russia where she has been studying on a six-week Fulbright Fellowship—an opportunity she could jump on, due in large part to her cheer squad at home holding down the fort: Team Awesome—dad, the kids, the grandmother (Gaga) and the cousin.
And now, it’s a wrap. Camp Gaga— five weeks of being the day-time nanny while their dad was at work—a very different proposition than just the usual back and forth of visiting up and down the block. To be full on required almost a complete re-wire. An archeological dig to find and resuscitate the ole skill sets. And, lo and behold, most of them came back. Well—maybe not the stamina and mightiness piece exactly— but time management, holding schedules together, and the whacky fun bits, for sure. And. . . I got to vicariously introduce them to a taste of my daughter’s childhood.
First: a three-day camping trip at a nearby state park. Alone. I felt brave. After we set up and wrestled the tents into place, I gave them the green light. “Go forth and conquer. You’re safe here. Explore. Hunt dragons. Make forts. Check in from time to time. I’ll always be here.” They ate when hungry. Slept when tired. Got lost and found their way back. We played UNO and checkers. I sipped whiskey at night and read by lamp light. At the end of the trip they were exhausted but happy, filthy and wild: almost feral. Oh yay.
An art studio manifested in a corner of my small apartment. Popsicle sticks, rubber bands, tape, paper, glue and clothes pins, that’s all it took. Endless projects. Endless. They went to sailing camps. Grandson immersed himself in Robotics and found his people: other technology geeks. For granddaughter it was a swimming camp and tap dancing. We drove here and there. Back and forth. Play dates. Birthday parties. I was on it.
And then, oh joy— the hanging out time—lots of it. Hours of lolling about. Cuddling. Talking about stuff. Mundane things. Feelings. Emotions (They loved Inside Out), and always— the burble of never ceasing, always evolving story lines from their fantastical worlds.
As the weeks flew by, I was completely cognizant that these were special circumstances, and that I would probably never get this kind of concentrated time with them again. So, I showed up; I treasured each moment. My grandchildren intimately know who I am now. The truth of me. We have shared secrets. Even though I annoy them occasionally, there are times when they think that I am wise. This is lineage and it’s a strong one. And when I pass from this world, I know that these memories will live in them and inform them.
Today, one day post “camp,” I sit on my couch, feet propped up, not doing much. Just writing and looking at the snaking trails of paper and other detritus on the floor, and the odd stuffed animal or two peering out from under the pillows, obviously escapees from the local zoo. I smile, remembering. Maybe tomorrow I’ll sort it out. Or the next day. . .