“The best baby-sitters, of course, are the baby’s grandparents. You feel completely comfortable entrusting your baby to them for long periods, which is why most grandparents flee to Florida.”Dave Barry
I dream about water when I’m overwhelmed.
This might be why…
Decked out in my favorite blue jeans, black sweater, and swanky new loafers. I admit to feeling rather chic. It’s rare, but it happens. So let’s not ruin the moment by overanalyzing a minor blip in a normally unfashionable life.
Then I score a parking spot less than a mile from the entrance to the grocery store. I know, I should buy a lotto ticket!
Grabbing an abandoned cart from the parking lot on my way into the store, I pull my list out of my purse and get down to business. My kids keep their grocery lists on their phones, but I’m old school and like putting pen to paper. Moving up and down the aisles I collect the basic provisions needed for our weekend at the lake, then roll my laden cart to the checkout stand, and guess what? There are no lines!
And that, my friends, is where the good fortune ends.
As the checker scans my last item, he says with practiced innocence, “is there a chance you qualify for any, um, discounts?”
I’m momentarily confused, then smile when I remember it’s senior citizen day, and he’s politely asking if I’m old enough to receive the discount.
I say, “Yes! I always forget. I definitely qualify.” Okay, truth be told, I have no idea what the age requirement is, but if he was brave enough to ask, I must be close enough.
With fake surprise, he says, “I’ll need to see some ID.” Clearly, he’s trying to act as if I couldn’t possibly be old enough, how adorable.
As I reach for my wallet, I say, “so you really need to check my ID?” I’m totally sweating it out because I could be a decade shy of the age requirement. Who knows? This checker is barely old enough to shave. He probably thinks I’m 70!
He laughs, “No, no, I’m kidding, that’s not necessary.”
Thank God, “oh, and could I purchase a lottery ticket.”
I saved $3.30 on my grocery bill. So the senior citizen discount is like two percent. Next time I’d rather he not ask!
When I get back to the lake house, there is a notification on my Instagram account. My sister has sent me a pic of a Christmas tree set up on a dock, reflecting its lights on the surrounding water. It’s a mixture of whimsical and stunning, if you want my opinion. I attached the picture a the top of this post, you decide.
Instantly, I send the picture to the entire family through our slack channel with the caption, “Let’s set this up on our dock by Thanksgiving! Lights reflecting off the water! Damn!”
Larry responds from across the room in a matter of seconds, “don’t even think about it.”
“Too late. A tree is already in my cart.”
“I thought of that and put a hold on our account for the remainder of the year.” I giggle because today is December 30th, what a drag, I won’t be able to shop for two whole days.
I say, “Wow, getting your scrooge on twelve months early.”
I get the look.
It’s raining up at the lake. A total downpour, praise God, we need it. The thing is, there are eight of us gathered to bring in the New Year at our cozy cabin in Kono Tayee. Three of whom are full of piss and vinegar, sporting attitudes, and nonstop energy. It’s sort of adorable. The millennials have reverted to their childhood mode and act as if they are somehow no longer parents but people of leisure without any conceivable demands on their time.
This means they nap indiscriminately, do yoga in the middle of the front room, and slip off to wineries for a quick tasting when there’s a lull in the storm. I sort of admire how they support each other, always making allowances for each other’s needs, so different from my generation, where we were groomed from birth to stay in our lanes.
Tonight we invited a few guests over to enjoy some paella with us. Griffin and MacKenzie show up with a couple of delicious appetizers, which only serve to whet our appetites, and we huddle around the kitchen island sipping wine, staying close to the action.
While Nic weaves his magic with his new paella pan, Julie is bathing the grandkids in my massive tub in the back of the house. She fills the tub to the brim so they can run the jacuzzi jets, which stir up the water and create vast amounts of bubbles. This is cause for a lot of resounding joy as they pile the soft bubbles on their heads, arms, and chins.
Grammie smiles indulgently as the bubbles spill over the rim of the tub and wisely returns to the kitchen to refill her wine.
Unbeknownst to all of us, the plumbing has backed up in the entire house, and as we’re engaging in light banter with our guests, Julie drains the tub, and instead of all that water draining peacefully down the sewer, it floods the entire bathroom, and laundry room, with a small river flowing down the hallway.
Well, that’s one way to spice up a dinner party.
Everyone jumps into action, laying down beach towels like a well-trained Red Cross team, sopping up water, and dumping the wet towels in the laundry room. Twenty towels in, we still have excess moisture that has traveled down the hall and into our bedroom.
Larry drags out his industrial snake and proceeds to clear the main line on the sideyard in the pouring rain. Years ago, someone with limited foresight planted cypress trees along the sewer line, and the roots periodically made their way into the pipe, clogging the plumbing at least twice a year. Larry is able to clear the roots in thirty minutes, and we’re back in business.
Poor guy, he’s as wet as our carpet, but the water is now flowing out of the house, and we can use the facilities again. Our guests are amused by all the shenanigans.
I, not so much.
Being a grandparent is a complicated relationship because it hinges on a series of other relationships, as Anna Quindlen notes. Whatever the status might be of your current relationship with your own children, it will grow exponentially in whatever direction it was already going with the appearance of grandchildren. The truth is I am no longer in charge. I’m in a relationship with children (my grandchildren) for the first time in my life, but I’m not responsible for managing everyone, responding to every need, or voicing my unwanted opinion when it is clearly not needed. Negotiating this space requires not only patience but prudence and the ability to filter your reaction to just about every given situation.
Including flooding the house.
The one thing I know is we’ve raised extraordinary children (I use the term extraordinary loosely, they all survived childhood, and that’s extraordinary enough), and our grandchildren have incredible parents who get to decide what they will eat, how they’ll behave, what they’re allowed to watch, and when it’s time for bed. As a grandparent, I have to learn how to roll with their rules or risk challenging my relationship with my own kids. It’s actually much easier than it sounds once you get the hang of it. I’m successful half the time but always improving.
I have to remember that we did the best we could when we were raising our children, and we bristled when our parents tried to interfere with what we considered antiquated advice. I’m sure our kids feel much the same. It’s time for them to do their thing without unwarranted judgment. Interfering with a parent’s sacred calling is not wise, prudent, or desirable. This is my advice, if they don’t ask for your opinion, don’t you dare give it.
My job is to enjoy the ride and consider myself worthy of every ounce of sweetness and sloppy kisses I can get.
I must add the paella was marvelous, the company divine, and the flood has been downsized to a memorable but romanticized incident.
Larry makes waffles and bacon for the early risers every morning. Cora and Sienna scamper up on the bar stools while Nono presents them with fluffy bavarian waffles, smothered in butter and syrup, with a side of bacon. It’s always a hit. Audrey and I stay snuggled in bed, watching the Gilmore Girls and sharing bits of waffle and bacon delivered to us by the twins.
They even bring me my coffee, walking with such focus and care down the soggy hallway, placing the half-filled mug into my outreached hands. It doesn’t get better than this.
Did I mention it’s raining? With winds gusting ranging from 30 to 40 miles an hour. So basically, we’re all stuck inside a giant snow globe. I bought a bunch of new coloring books and crayons, but in a quarter of an hour, they were absolutely bored and flinging the crayons at each other as if they were in a snowball fight. I scurry around, gathering the unbroken ones and salvaging the coloring books. Time to move on…
So I pull out the gingerbread houses I bought for them to decorate. It took four sober adults with various college degrees to put the houses together. Julie broke a number of important parts. Just sayin. The frosting took much longer to set up than recommended, and the natives were restless, slipping a number of the decorations into their mouths as they watched the adults clumsily constructing small brown houses. At the prescribed time, we let them loose with the frosting and an array of bright candies. I believe more of the decorations ended up on the floor than on the houses, but that’s part of the fun. I displayed the finished products on a cakestand, but they looked like a dilapidated neighborhood of cottages with sagging roofs. I took pictures anyway.
At some point, a rather aggressive game of bean bag war took place in the lanai involving three children and one Uncle Dante, which resulted in a bag exploding and dusting the entire floor with white powder.
I get out the mop while Julie and Nono take the restless trio on a walk in the rain to collect the mail. Uncle Dante disappeared?
When the soggy group returns to the house, Julie runs a bath to warm them up. I check the plumbing by flushing several of the toilets. All is running smoothly. The adults settle down for a glass of wine and start dinner preparations. It’s New Year’s Eve. Everything seems rather poetic until two wet, screaming, naked twins come running down the hall, yelling undistinguishable words to the frantic adults, trying to assess the situation.
I’m talking loud, distraught, wailing.
When the four of us squeeze into the bathroom, we find Audrey frantically trying to squelch the water, shooting straight up from no less than eight jets, showering the bathroom with water. It reminds me of the water fountain displays on the Las Vegas strip. I’d laugh if I wasn’t crying.
Here’s what happens when Mom decides not to overfill the tub because of the previous flood. She warns the children not to turn on the jets because the water is too low. And, of course, the minute she leaves the room, they turn on the jets.
That would have been messy but fine, except the on/off switch broke, and now the jacuzzi will not turn off.
Julie and I jump in the tub and try to fill it as quickly as possible while simultaneously holding our hands over the jet streams. As you can imagine, we are wildly unsuccessful. Larry and Nic run to the fuse box and proceed to turn off all the fuses until they finally find the one connected to the jacuzzi. Aside from the fact that every clock is blinking the wrong time, all the televisions have to be rebooted, and the heater reprogrammed, at least the water is not shooting all over the place as if one of those new-fangled showers with twenty spouts.
Julie and I look at each other, standing in a full tub, water dripping from our noses. What can you do but laugh?
I’m not sure you can appreciate the amount of water that ended up on the floor of the bathroom, not to mention the walls and ceiling. All the while, the kids are clearly traumatized and continue to whimper. Julie and I return to the pile of freshly washed beach towels and proceed to clean up the new flood. Noah has nothing on us!
Julie and Nic put all the children in time-out to consider their errant behavior. And this is when I fail to hold my tongue, it takes on a mind of its own, and I start complaining, “it’s not their fault the switch broke.”
Julie says, “I told them not to turn the jets on.”
“They’re kids, they couldn’t have known it would break.”
“They break everything.”
“No, they don’t. And they’re still scared.”
“They need a consequence.”
“Can I PLEASE go check on them.”
I find them huddled in a tight circle on the floor of their room, each of them cuddling their favorite stuffed animals. The twins are still whimpering, but only slightly, as Audrey tries to calm their fears.
The first thing they say when they see me is, “we’re sorry, Grammie,” obviously, Audrey has been coaching them.
I say, “all is forgiven, group hug.”
As we snuggle together on the floor, I tell them the story of a time when their mother enticed all of her siblings into painting themselves with mud during a rain storm, and then they came into the house to show off their mud attire! They thought that was hysterical. When we decide their parents have had enough time to cool down, the four of us venture into the family room, where the rest of the family is relaxing by the fire and sipping a nice tempranillo from Six Sigma. I race into the kitchen for a glass before it is all gone.
Audrey found a bottle of sparkling apple juice in the back of the refrigerator, which the grandkids enjoyed in adult glasses. After dinner we lit some sparklers in the front courtyard to ring in the east coast New Year.
As we settle the children down to bed, all I can think about is how much I love these little people, including the spills, the floods, the laughter, and the tears. They are an unimaginable blessing and the exclusive source of my pure white hair.
Sometimes I hardly recognize myself. Who is this woman? How is it possible that I’m suddenly a 62-year-old woman in the winter of my life with grandchildren and age spots on my hands? Someone who dreams about water when she’s overwhelmed.
And just like that, another year has come and gone. There are no new diets in my future, no pledges to join a gym, no dry promises to renege on. I say we spend January like Ellen Goodman advises, walking around our lives, room by room, making a list of the work to be done, the cracks to be patched, the floors to be mopped, if you will. But maybe this year, to balance the list, we ought to walk through the rooms…not looking for flaws or floods, but the potential for a life not yet imagined.
Cheers everyone! Here’s to 2023.
I’m Living in the Gap, flooded by joy, scanning my life for potential. Care to join me?
Audrey and me writing our stories after the flood!