Among the most precious of the inheritances I received by marriage are grown step-children, and now, through them, small step-grandchildren. They’re gone now, the two who just stayed with us for two weeks. The house is too quiet, the detritus of Lucky Charms and go-gurts too fresh to discard.
Someday we look forward to inviting them into our world. But now—while they’re truly children—we leap at these chances to step into theirs, if only we can remember how to play, and be brave enough to let go of our grown-up sense of how things are supposed to be. Sure, our adult hyper vigilance is required. Normal activities, be they stirring a pot of soup on the stove or backing out of the driveway, now required a level of self-, child-, and perimeter-monitoring unmatched even by Homeland Security. Yet the real challenge is to listen to the child-heart that snatches eagerly at the least opportunity for play.
Morning wake-ups were group snuggles. “Mamaw, love on me!” (I will, as soon as I scoop my melted heart back into place.) “Grandpa, if I help you build cairns on the trail, how much money will I earn?” (He loved that; exciting venture plus financial learning opportunity.) After hikes and mini-pancakes, off to the pool. “Grandpa, watch this!” (In one week, she learned to dive, not belly-flop, jump without shooting water up her nose, and mermaid-swim to the bottom for treasure.) Evenings were story-times. “No, Mamaw, one more chapter!” (She loves to read! Huzzah!”)
We avoided television completely, except for our once-a-week Movie Night. One of the weeks, we chose the classic Swiss Family Robinson. “But I don’t like real-people movies!” cried our young man. “Okay,” I suggested, “how about if we try it for five minutes, then if we don’t like it, we’ll switch to a not-real-people-movie?” Yes, that was acceptable. Gold star for agreeing to try something new! A few scenes later our intrepid viewers had seen gold-plated pirates and a technicolor shipwreck, smiling monkeys and a giant turtle, sword-play and chases down the sand. “This is a beautiful movie!” our boy declared, as his sister quivered at the site of a growling tiger threatening our heroes.
What are these days worth in the middle of the crazy-busy lives of the grown-ups? Gold and silver, platinum and diamonds. The gold is the chance to melt down the dross of the smug superiorities that’ve crusted over our characters; the silver, the patience we might not be able to summon for ourselves, but can suddenly find for the innocent angels in our care. The platinum is the timeless sense that mistakes are merely footprints in the sand that the next wave will soon wash away. And the diamonds are the sparkling moments that’ll stay with us, now, always, like rare seashells we’ve discovered and now get to take home as treasures.
As our final weekend began, tired and a little sunburned from the playground, we piled back into the car, waved to our friends and started our drive home for a dinner of corn-on-the-cob with mac-and-cheese. Car songs spontaneously erupted from the back seat and we all chimed in. “The bear climbed over the mountain” got us through the first few miles, followed by “The Ants Go Marching One by One.”
I glanced at my husband as we held a long note, and a moment of grace filled the car as tangibly present as the song was loud. With a sense of wonder, I looked out the front window and saw the scenery transform into a perfect mural painted on a nursery wall: white clouds like puffy sheep marching across a background of sky-blue; dark blue mountains stretching across one side, wide green fields filling the other.
“Let’s do the round one!” came the suggestion from the back seat. Singing at the top of our lungs, as we angled the bend for home, we just had time to finish the last of the verse. “Life is but a dream.”
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