Most of my old friends near and far are grandparents now. They share their grandchildren’s pictures on Facebook, and though I usually ‘hide’ cat and dog videos, I love looking at babies and toddlers, especially when my friends are in the picture, beaming happiness.
My grandparent status is different, though hardly unusual, because I’m raising mine, and she’s a teenager. She lived with us for a couple of extended periods before coming for good when she was eight. We’ve had the usual travails of child-rearing, and then some. But I’ve had a grandmother’s full share of adorable and adoring. And I want to share those stories, because mine was once just as cute as yours, and because I like to remember those days.
I love to sing, and in those days Amanda loved to hear it. I wrote a song for her before she was born ‘Ukelele, huckleberry, Amyanda Rose, she’s the sweetest baby, everybody knows, Orange blossom honey from her head down to her toes...’ To sustain us both through hours of walking (me) and screaming (her), I had Elisa’s song from my childhood ‘Aa naa naa mi nena de mi corazon..’ click. I wrote a toilet training song: ‘I went peepee in the potty... I’m such a great big girl.’ To my amazement she sang it to me just the other day.
And then there was the huge repertoire of songs to get her to sleep at night. She had me trained to stay with her until she slept. I particularly remember holding my breath and inching my body off the bed after twenty renditions of Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer, only to hear “Grandma,” as I reached the door. We had On Top of Old Smoky, You Are My Sunshine, Fox Went Out on a Chilly Night, Down in the Valley, Go Tell Aunt Dora, and many, many more. I look back and wonder, what was I thinking? I’m a great believer in bedtimes, and bedtime routines, but somehow our routine had become sing until you drop. I think I was a pushover because I worried about what was going on at home.
Like Grandma, like Grandbaby: until she matured into self-consciousness, Amanda would frequently break into song. At three we took her to Jacksonville Beach. Joe went in to ride the waves, Amanda and I sat in the sand at the edge of the water, making drip castles. Every time the water ran up under our bottoms the castles washed away. Every time, she laughed. And suddenly she began singing, ‘Rock my soul in the bosom of Abraham.’ click
First trip to Jax beach - in winter
We took her camping at Cumberland Island when she was seven. It’s a special place, only accessible by ferry, a national seashore in southern Georgia with long empty beaches, wild horses, and billions of birds. Though it was supposed to be a tenth anniversary celebration, suddenly we had Amanda. So we borrowed a bigger tent and went on our first real family trip.
some of the billions:oystercatchers image:Jacksonville.com
Everything was new to Amanda. It was her first boat ride - she and Joe stood in the bow to catch the wind in their faces. We disembarked and got a cart to haul our gear over the long trek to the camp site. We slept cozy in the tent, the October weather mild and the mosquitoes gone, and through the night heard the wild horses galloping down the trail.
We rose early, and Amanda and I took flashlights to walk the long path to the bathrooms, and then through the woods to the beach. Through the moss-draped oaks the sunrise filled the whole sky with rose and gold. And Amanda began singing, ‘Oh Mr. Sun, Sun, Mr. Golden Sun, please shine down on me.’ click
Cumberland Island is magical in so many ways. We watched the waves and birds and sunrise, and then returned to the camp where Joe was making breakfast. When breakfast was cleared away, the three of us set off to explore the island, walking carefully down the trail to avoid the piles of horse shit. “Grandma, the doodoo is moving!” We squatted down, and sure enough, iridescent dung beetles were patiently rolling balls of horseshit along to wherever they thought it should go.
Children like shit. Whenever Amanda was staying with us, we would go for a walk in the evening, Joe holding Trisket’s leash, Amanda on her tricycle. I was in charge of picking up the poop, until the day when Amanda said, “I want to carry the doodoo.” Proudly she led the parade, with the plastic bag of shit dangling from her handlebars.
Maryanne and I have been friends since 1980; like me, she acquired a child late in life. When they were little the girls loved to play together, and Joe and I spent a lot of time with Maryanne and Larry. We were so at home at their house that I could honestly say ‘Being with you is almost as good as being alone’(and they didn’t take offense).
On a chilly night Larry made a fire in the living room and the girls roasted marshmallows. Soon they were covered in melted marshmallow, particularly fetching on Amanda’s dark skin. They were purely happy; so was I. Sharing this unexpected road with Maryanne has doubled the pleasure and cushioned the bumps.
When Amanda was in kindergarten I picked her up every morning to take her to school. One day she found a soup pot and wooden spoon in the back of the car (no, I don’t remember why), and she decided to make breakfast. From then on, I chose my daily breakfast from the menu she recited. I could have bacon and eggs, pancakes, spaghetti and meatballs, black beans and rice, or chicken soup. It was all delicious, especially satisfying on winter mornings as we drove through darkness with dawn just breaking. I asked her once what was in the soup. “Chicken...and soup,” she told me scornfully - any fool would know that.
Amanda was briefly a Brownie, and in fourth grade Joe took her to the Father-Daughter Dance. We went all out for this, knowing it would likely be the last time she would happily go dancing with Grandpa.
Brownies selling cookies
She needed a special dress. Until now, fearing squabbles and tantrums, I had always bought her clothes, returning whatever she didn’t like. This was our first shopping trip together, and it was a revelation. She was quick and decisive, and we found a dress in twenty minutes. And what a dress: very grown-up-looking and entirely modest - we both loved it. We had time and energy for shoes - jeweled silver sandals with a slightly elevated heel. And later I went to Beauty Max (the place for costume jewelry) for diamond earrings and a hairclip.
The afternoon of the dance, I painted her nails and fixed her hair in a bun, and we came out to present her to Joe in her full glory. “Wait,” he said. “There’s one more thing.” And he went to the refrigerator and brought out a rose corsage.
She won a prize for her dancing
Since I saw her born, I’ve known I was lucky to have my grandbaby living nearby. People often say the joy of grandchildren is you get to have them for a while and then you get to send them home. We don’t have that with Amanda, instead we have the complex joys of raising her. A recent article in the paper told me that people who take care of their grandchildren have a reduced risk of Alzheimer’s. I was delighted, until I kept reading and learned that those who are full-time parents to their grandchildren have an increased risk. Oh well.
Now we have a brand-new grandbaby, who will be the borrow and return type. Joe’s daughter Leah gave birth to a HUGE baby, Ula Mae, on June 1. All is well there - the love was immediate and overwhelming, and mother and baby are champion nursers. James is doing everything fatherly possible given that he lacks functional nipples. The little issue of sleepless parents will resolve itself after a while. They don’t live quite close enough, but New Orleans is only an eight-hour drive, and I’ve learned from my friends that Facetime does wonders. It’s my turn again to be fatuous and adoring, and I can’t wait.