Our vacation plans go so wrong, and so right

My grandson, Liam, was staying for a few days, and I had an itinerary. I was determined to make some wonderful memories for both Liam and myself, and I don't mean maybe.

Mornings, I thought we'd blow bubbles and explore our hilly, forested yard. There'd be homemade molasses cookies, warm and fragrant, to nibble when he arose from his nap. I'd read to him for hours - especially my adored classics such as "Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel" and "Make Way for Ducklings." We'd cuddle up and watch "Sesame Street" together.

In the evenings, he would spend hours finger-painting with Grampie. During Liam's bath, I'd teach him songs I learned when I was his age and we'd sing duets.

Right.

The first thing to go awry was the weather. It rained unrelentingly, summer or no summer. For unknown reasons of his own, Liam refused to go into the living room under any circumstances, which eliminated cozy "Sesame Street" sessions.

My grandson regarded my bubble-producing capers in the basement with extreme suspicion. Upon his first sight of Gran Shan blowing a big bubble, he gasped and headed for the stairs.

"Bubbles, bye-bye!" he said hopefully.

"Bubbles are fun," I coaxed pathetically, as he escaped up the stairs.

What he really wanted to do was climb stairs. But he hadn't yet mastered descending. That meant Gran retrieval. About once a minute, I had to climb the stairs and haul my little stair-climbing machine down, so he could climb yet again.

When even Liam wearied of the Toddler Olympic Stair-Climbing Event, we sat down to read. But Mike Mulligan did not interest him, nor did Mrs. Mallard. Instead, Liam wanted "Dr. Seuss's ABC" repeated over and over. "Again!" he'd say, the second I finished saying, "I am a Zizzer-Zazzer-Zuzz, as you can plainly see."

Worn out from stair-climbing and ABCing, when Liam stretched out for a nap, so did I. That meant graham crackers with Nutella upon awakening, instead of luscious warm cookies from the oven.

"Yum!" he said, wolfing them down. But I couldn't help thinking how much better those memories-in-the-making would have been with homemade molasses cookies.

Finger-painting turned out to be a 10-second job. Liam wanted to paint, but only as a prelude to his nightly two-hour bubble bath. He wouldn't hear of the bath without painting first, but the artwork never took longer than splat-squiggle-splat-squiggle. And then he, sporting a bright technicolored mustache, was done.

Instead of singing with me during his bath, as I'd envisioned, he repeatedly poured water through a funnel and listened to my solo renditions of "The Itsy-Bitsy Spider" and "When Father Put the Paper on the Wall."

Each day was a rerun: rain, ABC times a thousand, stair-climbing, bubble-shunning, etc. I became a stair-climbing speed-retriever, and taught Liam nursery rhymes during his upward mountaineering treks. Dr. Seuss's words are forever committed to my memory, love them or not. After each nap, Liam requested graham crackers with Nutella - and I'd begun craving them myself.

On the last hour of the last day of Liam's visit, he and I were sitting, side-by-side, in a chair in the bedroom. I was thinking, "We're just sitting here! What a waste! Get up and get a book. Do something - anything! Sing him a song. Tell him a poem!" But I don't.

We just sat there, my grandson and I, the hall clock loudly ticking off those last precious minutes. I tried not to think about bubbles, running around outside, Bert and Ernie, and all the other things Liam had missed out on. "Some memories I gave this kid," I fumed silently. And then Liam said, "Gran and Liam are sitting together. We're having SO much fun!"

The truth whapped me in the face like a pile of 10-second fingerpaintings. We had been having fun all along, just by being together. In spite of my big agenda - certainly not because of it.

Hey, who in the world put me in charge of orchestrating reminiscences, anyway? Who gave me the title of Picker and Chooser of Worthwhile Memories? Oh, right. The same person who was now firing herself from the job. It was time for Gran Shan's new plan: relax and enjoy.

And I don't mean maybe.

(c) Copyright 2001. The Christian Science Monitor

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