It’s as if life were a giant accordion, time continually folding in on itself, sometimes the phenomenon is so profound I find it hard to breathe. Stevie Wonder claims music, at its essence, is what gives us memories. I think it’s more about doing things outside the norm that make the strongest imprint on our hard drive. Time has always been a conundrum for me. So here’s what I’ve been contemplating… what is the most important message time has to offer?
I suddenly found myself in a rather nostalgic situation, holding tight to small hands, warding off cumbersome fears of potential kidnappers, while simultaneously racing down a path in order to enter a pen of wild animals. This could be straight from the pages of a Stephen King novel, minus the generous advancement, and lack of definitive ending.
To be completely transparent, I admit the invitation was a coveted one, any opportunity to accompany my three granddaughters, and son-in-law to Happy Hallow Park and Zoo would be hard to resist. Right? Aside from the hordes of people who have the same idea, at least we’re united in purpose, to get one”good” nap out of our wee ones.
What’s difficult to recall is the last time I was here with my own kids (my sister would remember), a brief perusal of archived memories puts me in the vicinity three decades ago, and decades before that I came with my own mother. The park opened in 1961, after the Disney phenomenon hit America, and local philanthropists took up the vision for a theme park in San Jose. Gary Shippam’s submittal of “Happy Hollow” was selected and became the iconic name.
It’s remarkable in the scheme of things to have a shared history with the children of my children, common blood flowing through our veins, not to mention all the favorable traits they get from my side of the family. As if life were a game of chess, I can almost anticipate they’re every move, and I can’t help but wonder if this is by design or consequence?
As Nic weaves through the back streets of San Jose in search of the park I work tirelessly to keep the twins in shoes, Audrey hydrated, and my freshly poured coffee contained in an open cup. It’s like riding a horse, skill sets which have laid dormant for years rise to the surface, and without a moments hesitation I’m back in the saddle.
The parking lot is the first challenge. I manage to spare Audrey a trip to the emergency room after she slips off the ledge she was using as a balance beam while holding my hand. I may have dislocated my shoulder as my daughter’s daughter scrambles off the ground and races ahead to climb a small boulder. I have bandaids in my purse, no worries.
Macaulay Culkin claims, “we are a collection of thoughts and memories and likes and dislikes. I am the things that have happened to me and the sum of everything I’ve ever done. I am the clothes I wear on my back. I am every place and every person and every object I have ever come across. I am a bag of bones stuck to a very large rock spinning a thousand miles an hour.” I try to spot my granddaughter as she scales the rock, using worn nodules to place her small feet, it’s as if the rock were longing to be climbed.
Nic has the twins in the stroller as we follow the jagged paw prints to the front gate. He has season passes so I stand in line to purchase a “senior” ticket, I’m like 26 months shy of the cut-off, but the youthful agent didn’t bat an eye. I pout for a few minutes, but I did save five bucks, rethinking the decision to let my hair go grey. It ages me, but the truth is I’m aging, apparently it happens to all of us, except Jane Fonda and Marie Osmond. “Becoming a grandmother is wonderful. One moment you’re just a mother. The next you are all-wise and prehistoric,” notes Pam Brown. Prehistoric seems a tad unwarranted?
Moving in a tight pack is difficult when our miniature charges move in opposing directions, it’s like herding cats, but worse. Nic and I divide and conquer, I follow Audrey, he follows the twins. We’re still outnumbered. I feel that familiar surge of stress and regret leaving my coffee in the van.
The petting zoo is gated which also serves to corral our pack of wild kittens. The twins are hesitant around the billy goats who lay passively in the sun. I kneel down with them as they tentatively reach out to pet the stiff fur. I notice how they look the goat in the eye, softly touching his face, making soft noises to the creature as if saying, “hi there, how are you today?” Why don’t we treat each other this way? I just want to sit back and breath in the sweetness of this moment as they race off towards an unsuspecting lamb.
Scanning the yard I see how the animals move away from the more aggressive children (as they should). The goats make it abundantly clear their horns are off limits which only serves to make them more interesting. Poor billy goats. I’m sure they’re thinking how the hell did I end up in a petting zoo? I’m thinking the same thing.
Audrey is excited about our next stop, she won’t tell me much, but grabs my hands and with youthful exuberance, hurries down a windy path towards the crooked house. I’m immediately on guard. I don’t like places where you can climb, slide, and hide. It’s like ones mind, you don’t go in alone, or risk irretrievability.
Staying next to Audrey is like keeping a bandaid attached to wet skin, it slips off, only to be abandoned in the tanbark. She races up the back stairs, and slips into the upper room, but before I get my bearings she disappears down a steep slide. What else can I do? I follow, found out the hard way, it’s a slippery devil, landing on my butt in the dirt, as my charge sprints off in unknown directions. I was able to capture her expression with my camera after her second slide. There it is, those tiny moments, that make the sheer joy of living easy to miss.
As Nic braves the slide with a twin in each arm, I attempt to catch up with Audrey, who has slipped quietly into another crooked room. I start asking perfect strangers “where the hell did she go?” They point outside. Why am I always in when everyone else is out? We climb, slide, and hide until Nic recommends the giant play structure located jut up the road. Praise be to God.
As Nic takes the twins to the smaller structure I follow Audrey to the giant edifice where the “big” kids play. I start scanning the playscape for sketchy individuals. I realize this is profiling and I don’t care.
Shadowing Audrey is like keeping pace with a fruit fly, she buzzes, darts, lands, and manages to fly off before capture. Keep in mind my recent release from the boot, I’m no longer imprisoned, but my movements are slow and measured. I only panicked half a dozen times.
The structure is composed of a series of challenging passage ways, as if a Harry Potter movie, they move and converge as I race around trying to keep up with my adorable bug. Almost all of the stairwells have the added convenience of large circular slides that pour out in unexpected locations. Ten minutes in I’m sweating like a sumo wrestler. I decide it would be wiser to sit in a strategic position, as if a composed buddha, and keep watch with my eyes. As Anne Lamott observes lighthouses don’t go running all over an island looking for boats to save; they just stand there shining.
When Nic wanders over with the twins, I throw in the soaked towel, “anyone ready for lunch? My treat.”
We move our little entourage towards the cafeteria, purchasing high quality food such as fries, chicken nuggets, and an orange to justify our conscience. Finally seated at an outdoor picnic table I gorge on fries as if I were trying to recapture the nonchalance of youth. I’m sure the only thing I’ll recapture is a recently lost five pounds.
Post lunch we stroll (that’s a stretch) through the zoo portion of the park, stopping at every single attractive cage in order to identify the various species of large rodents, small tigers, miniature horses, pigs, bears, and extraordinary birds on display. The children are slowing down which is a good sign. At the end of the zoo walk Nic claims it’s time to head home.
I hobble along in total agreement holding tight to toddlers who have finally slowed to my pace.
I made a deal with Audrey on the way to the park that I would sit in the back next to her on the way home. It takes a contortionist to squeeze into the back seat but I manage without too much damage and total bonus there’s still some stale coffee in my mug. She delights in the effort it took for me to squeeze in next to her, all the more worth it.
The twins are asleep before we exit the parking lot. And for unknown reasons I’ve agreed to purchase a unicorn bubble blower for Audrey’s Easter basket, our faces are tinged with color, and I’m ever so grateful to have evaded all imagined catastrophes.
I’ve come to the conclusion that it is not possible to condense one’s life, maybe it’s the accordion of layers that’s so appealing, when the bellows of life are stretched or contracted, that is when the reeds are able to capture the full symphony of life. Helen Ketchum says, “Grandmothers are voices of the past and role models of the present. Grandmothers open the doors to the future.” You can’t go back in time, but you can slow down, and enjoy every glorious moment left to you. This is the wisdom that comes with age.
I’m Living in the Gap, drop by anytime, we’ll swap tales about the hazards of procreating.
- I think traditions change and modify with each generation. With new members joining the family, their customs and traditions have to be respected and combined with the exiting traditions. And the children that follow are part of that new evolving tradition and, as they grow, will have input that will, in turn, continue to evolve that tradition. Lidia Bastianich
- I think that we have a great opportunity to impart our wisdom and our knowledge and our experience to this younger generation. It may be different times, but experience transcends time, and wisdom transcends time. Victoria Osteen
- Each new generation of children grows up in the new environment its parents have created, and each generation of brains becomes wired in a different way. The human mind can change radically in just a few generations. Alison Gopnik