A child's love goes the distance

'I will miss you very much when you leave," I muttered to hide the catch in my voice.

Thirty-month-old Andy leaned across my living- room rug and handed me a green, plastic suitcase no larger than a walnut and asked, "Will you come to visit?"

"Of course," I said with as confident a tone as I could muster over the lump in my throat.

"I'll do what I can to keep our connection alive," I thought, "but you're so young, you'll forget me in no time."

It was the last afternoon in my year of taking care of my grandson three afternoons a week. We filled his mother's old, red-plastic circus train with the giraffe, elephant, and monkeys and pushed them under the footstool. We pretended they were moving to Michigan next week, too.

Then we went on our usual amble up the block. He stopped along the way to poke rocks with a stick and pick up leaves.

"Here, Nana. This is for you," he beamed, and offered me an apple leaf and a piece of gravel. I stuffed them into the pocket of my jeans, a precious hoard against the coming drought of our separation.

On our way home, we checked the fences in vain for his favorite neighborhood cat, an albino named Captain Marvel.

Andy galloped past me, arms outstretched into the breeze, mane flying. Then he stopped, grabbed the leg of my jeans, and kissed my knee. A tidal wave of pleasure washed over me. I floated along the sidewalk.

Then Andy looked up at the 39 front stairs winding through my terraced garden, threw up his arms, and announced that he was too tired, "Nana, carry me."

I sat down on the first step. "You know I can't do that. We'll have to go up on our bottoms."

He settled beside me on the cold stone and laughed as we plopped our way up past the daisies, one step at a time.

At step No. 10, he stood to reach one of the "hats" he likes to pull off the poppy buds and, mindless of his being too tired, scrambled the rest of the way to the front door.

Stupefied from the effort of slowing down to toddler time, I sank onto the living-room floor and lay on my back - a desert traveler buried in sand.

He flung himself on my chest, pried up my eyelids, and shouted, "Nana, let's go rake the yard!"

"You're going to miss this. You really are," I thought, as I yanked myself back into action.

On the last day that I picked him up from nursery school, he walked toward me with downcast eyes and a secret smile. Then, like a magician revealing a magic coin, he opened his fist and reached up with a necklace made of bits of dried pasta and orange and green plastic beads.

"For Mommy?" I asked.

"No, Nana. It's for you!" Now he had me whirling on the ballroom floor.

He'd been gone a week. The empty white shelves where he kept the miniature train and airport and cash register stared at me in the hall - a reminder of the emptiness I felt.

I had thought I would enjoy my freedom to rush right through my "to do" list without a pause - no lying about on the rug. But even when I managed to go all the way until lunchtime without thinking of him, I was not consoled.

My nightstand held the valentine he'd made me - two pages of red construction paper stapled together at the top, covered with misshapen colored-marker circles and big black dots. Whenever I worried that our connection might be fading, I opened the drawer and felt his energy flutter up around me like a freed canary.

Late one rainy afternoon, pinched by the unavoidable, I sat at my desk paying bills. The phone rang. I grabbed the receiver and wanted to shout, "Will you leave me alone so I can finish one thing!" but I hesitated.

All I heard was silence - maybe one of those automated phone calls gone bad. Then I heard some garbled mumbling.

"That's not English; it must be a wrong number," I thought, and I reached over to hang up the receiver.

Then Andy's clear treble boomed, "Nana!"

My heart burst at the sound of his dear, familiar voice.

I heard his amazed, "I pushed the buttons, and there you are!" I could almost see his blue eyes widening, and the golden froth of hair on his forehead, smell his teddy-bear scent, and feel his plump fingers snug around my thin ones.

Thank goodness for the telephone, I thought as we exchanged pretend hugs through the wires. Then I hung up and smiled as I turned back to my desk. I hadn't lost him after all.

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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