My three-year old grandson hardly knows me, and yet he takes my hand and holds it tight. I feel his small, warm fingers tugging mine. What will he show me?
His parents are on the other side of the ocean for two weeks. I wonder if I should mention their names, or will this make him miss them more? "You know, Grandmommy," he says at suppertime, "my mommy and daddy are all alone. Can we send them a card?"
I pull down the carton of games from the attic. We play with the dominoes. I open the box of sewing cards and show him how to sew around the blue elephant. I hold the card, and he sews. "Your father sewed this card," I say, "when he was little." "No," he tells me, "my father is big." "He is big now," I explain, "but once he was small." "No," Paul says, "I am small; my father is big."
I find a nursery school for the mornings. The moment I hand him to the teacher, he throws himself on the floor and screams. When I return, he's playing happily with the other children. The next day he says, "You know, Grandmommy, there's no school today." I tell him there's school each day. When I take him back, he runs right off to play with his new friends. I stand at the school door empty-handed.
We go shopping. He sits contentedly in the carriage, and I try to steer clear of the toys. Then I weaken and ask him to choose between a picture puzzle and a game of cards. "I want two toys," he says. I shake my head. He repeats, "One, two, Grandmommy." When I'm ready to give in, he chooses the puzzle and forgets the cards.
Upstairs, downstairs, fetch a toy, tie laces, look for slippers, pick him up, put him down, pour him juice, fix him supper. I'm exhausted. "Grandmommy," he says, "can we play another game?" "Yes," I answer, "just one, then you can play by yourself." "No, Grandmommy, you play with me."
We buy a big bag of birdseed and fill the feeder in the cherry tree. Back inside, we wait for the birds to come. "Why don't they come when we're outside?" he asks. "Because they're afraid of us." He stands on the chair and looks out the window, watching the birds fly in and peck at the feeder. "But we won't hurt them," he says. "Tell them, Grandmommy."
We go for walks down our road. Paul remembers each house, each front yard, each mailbox; where there's a dog, where there's another dog. It's like a giant memory game. On the way back, I sing, "If you're happy and you know it, clap your hands." He looks at me and claps his hands. "Again, Grandmommy!" I sing the same verse over and over, and he claps over and over, all the way home.
I peel and cut a yellow apple. "Paul, do you want a piece?" At first he shakes his head. Then he waits close by until I ask him again. He takes a bite and asks for another piece. "You have good apples, Grandmommy," he says. "Do you like Grandmommy's apples?" I want to hear him say it again.
At bath time, I collect lots of plastic cups and bowls, hoping to keep him quiet for a little while. I run the hot water at the temperature he likes and pour in some bubble soap, just enough to play. Once he's in the tub, surrounded by toys and soapsuds, he says, "You stay here, Grandmommy. Don't go away." I kneel down by the side of the tub, and he shows me a soap bubble. "Look," he says, "there's a rainbow in it."
He has a small red-plastic cassette-tape player, which he listens to as he goes to sleep. When it reaches the end of the tape, I return on tiptoe to make it play again. "No, Grandmommy," says Paul opening his eyes, "that's not the way." And with deft little fingers, he takes out the cassette, turns it around the right way, and puts it back in. The next night he shows me again.
During the day, I hurry him along. If he's eating, I hurry him to finish his plate. If we're going outside, I hurry him into his jacket. If we're getting into the car, I hurry him into his seat. If we're going to the store, I hurry him into the carriage. And then when we're finished and have to wait in line at the checkout counter, he leans his soft cheek against my hand and rubs it back and forth.
When we go to church, he stands up on my chair to watch. Then he sits quietly on my lap. He doesn't talk or ask questions or move around. He sits still. I think back to our children. Did they sit still and watch, or did I maybe try to explain too much?
We have an old swing in the front yard, and I lower the ropes so Paul can sit on it alone. "Push me, Grandmommy," he says. I push him. "Push me higher! Push me higher!" He laughs and squirms when my hands catch him from the back. He doesn't turn around; he knows I'm there.
When the swing slows down, his blond hair glows in the sunlight, a spot of gold in the middle of the yard. I wait to see what he will do next. He steadies the wooden seat and reaches around for my hand.
"Your turn, Grandmommy," he says. "I'll push you."