When I was little, my grandmothers both lived in Poland, across the great Atlantic. So for long stretches of my childhood, our visits were few and far between.
And yet. The memories remain of them reading me books. Singing me songs. Sneaking me goodies. Cooking with me. Telling stories. Listening to mine. Going for walks. Just being.
Now I have children of my own, and their grandmother -- my mom -- lives on the East Coast, 1,500 miles away. Our visits are never as plentiful and long as I'd like them to be, but strung across time, they're still substantial.
History repeats itself.
But not just the melancholy parts, in which we live plane-rides apart. Also the sweetest parts. The just being.
It seems grandmothers have a knack for this -- the just showing up. My own mom is open, positive, flexible, attentive. The best traits for honoring the incredible spirits of small children.
On her last visit to Austin to spend time with us, we went out to Butler Park so my two-year-old could ride his bike down the big spiral hill, like the daredevil that he is. This was our only expectation.
But with two year olds, nothing goes exactly as you expected, and before we knew it, we were chasing the little guy across the park on his bike (his hair was practically ablaze, the guy is so fast), and we stumbled upon -- you guessed it -- a pair of camels at the events center next door.
It was amazing, they were beautiful, and never in a million years would we have expected it. But apparently impromptu visits with camels are just one of those things that becomes possible if you're open to just showing up -- without an agenda.
A good soaking in the park's splash pad was probably more foreseeable. And watching my mom watch my little guy experience that head-to-toe thrill of running through the fountain was enough to give me pause. To remind me to slow down and pay better attention to what makes these little people tick right now. In a flash, it'll be different. They'll be different.
When we go to the neighborhood park, my kids always want to swing on the swings (which -- by the way -- is directly at odds with my mysteriously stubborn desire for them to climb and run around instead). They beg me: push me, push me, mama! Sometimes, I say no. Ok. Often. Often I say no.
But their grandma, in for a visit? She never says no. She'll push them as the sun sails across the sky, if they want her to. And if they ever tire of that? She'll help them ride the swing "like a horsie" and look on with love.
The very tasks that seem the most mundane become full of meaning and memories with a patient, appreciative grandparent.
When we're just chillin' at home without a plan, I often try to engage the little ones in some sort of activity so I can sneak away and fold some laundry or shoot off a couple of emails for work, or figure out whether our geriatric dog pooped in the house again. It's a regular cycle: Get them playing. Sneak off. Half-accomplish something. Feel both relief and frustration when they triumphantly come find me. Rinse. Repeat.
Many nights, I collapse on the couch after putting them to bed and promise myself that tomorrow, I'll be more attentive. I'll work on that art of just being. (The irony is not lost on me that at the same time, I'm promising myself that I'll be gentle with myself and trust that I'm doing just fine.)
This week I'm feeling so thankful that my children have this budding relationship with an incredible woman who -- although they don't see her as often as we'd all like -- is a totally present presence for them when they're together. It's a relief to know that at least a few times a year, they'll get to play tea party (complete with watermelon-and-egg-soup) as long as they want.
I'll close this ramble with the following thought: to me, letting grandma carry out the sacred bedtime routine feels like the biggest gift. Sometimes I like to quietly creep to the doorway and just watch the way my little ones snuggle in to her neck, absentmindedly stroke her arm with their ever-active fingers, and sweetly beg for one more book. One more book. One more book. Yes, she responds. Always yes.
When I make a photo like the one below, it's really for me. So that I can remember how it felt to watch this love unfold. But also, I hope, it'll speak to her.