When Grandma is in Charge
The Race is Run
Distance and Time
When Grandma lives close enough for day-to-day familiarity then Grandma already knows the basic rules and schedule. She already knows the favorite toys, favorite games, and the time and place of the next track meet. She knows well in advance what the children want, would like and will be happy with for Christmas.
In the military life this dynamic is the opposite. Grandma is too far away to know her grandchildren on a day-to-day basis. She may not know that her grandson refuses to wear pajamas with feet, or that her granddaughter is afraid of spiders. She does not know the names of their friends or when they have a swim meet.
However when the call comes what grandma knows changes as fast as the next jet out of Denver International Airport. Suddenly instead of frequent and short with nearby family, the visit is long, all day, every day.
No question, family is everything. I am Grandma Donna, and I go to Fort Bliss, Texas to watch over four small grandchildren who I know from pictures and stories and crowded holidays and scattered visits over the years.
More than the dynamic of time and distance, is the change in roles. Grandma is not just for fun. Grandma is on a serious mission. Mom is in Afghanistan, and grandma is on site as a temporary replacement for a person immensely loved and missed.
We spend some minutes looking at each other: Grandma and four children ages three to seven. We size each other, weigh the options and look for clues. Then the children carry-on, perceiving no threat.
Grandma, on the other hand, is afraid, very afraid. While love is unquestioned, what are we going to do to survive?
We have a little marching band of ants coming through from the patio door and under the stools at the counter. Perhaps some are shopping for school clothes.
All four children are lined up watching the parade. They sit on their haunches unmoving so as not to scare the ants. They whisper names. "That one is the dad. That one is Izzy." On the end closest to the patio door sits the dog named Moose. He is also still, watching.
Rachel says, "They're hungry. They like cereal."
Robert runs for the Cheerios.
"Do not pour cereal on the floor," I say as I get the vacuum cleaner. Too late.
I ask the fascinated line-up to move as I plug the machine into the wall.
I begin to move the stools out of the way. It is a hardwood floor, and I swear one of the tiny insects, maybe Izzy, is carrying an entire slice of toast. I turn on the vacuum.
I kneel on the floor, vacuum cleaner hose in hand and look up to see a dawning awareness on four shocked faces that grandma is about to commit insecticide.
"I'll do it," Robert, age three, who loves machines and noise is more fascinated by the vacuum cleaner sucking up the ants than he is by the parade.
Alex, age five, who has followed the hose to the clear plastic container informs his siblings that the ants won't die. They'll go into the container. Everyone backs up, even Moose, and Robert begins his task as his siblings watch for the ants to land inside the removable plastic bin.
I fetch the wet-jet mop and prepare to remove all ant temptation for future forays. The girls run outside to the patio to prepare an outside home for their new pets. The boys carefully remove the plastic bin and carry their tiny friends outside.
While I mop, I am again amazed at how well my grandchildren will work together for a common goal. I put the mop away and step outside to check on the Save The Ants project. Sure enough the tiny creatures are scurrying about in full health. I spot their home base, but I say nothing.
After verifying that all of the ants are gone from the vacuum cleaner tub, Robert hands the tub to me. Everyone is happy. Their work is done, and they head inside to find something to eat. How long does it take for a fumigator to come?
Check the Perimeter
Before opening the door to the shoe closet, before opening any cupboard door and especially before entering the bathroom, the cry goes out, "Check the perimeter!"
What does reason matter? There is no reason for this. It is fun to yell and have grandma come and look high and low for insects and give the "All clear."
There might be ants. There were ants once, and, so, the children live in hope of more.
I say, "The ants are all gone. They've moved to their grandma's house."
Hannah, age seven, says, "I saw a spider."
Now that is a can of worms. For two days the only safe passage is to the refrigerator and to the TV remote. "Check the perimeter. I have to use the bathroom."
We are preparing for Rachel to go to ballet lesson. She is standing in front of the cupboard which contains her ballet shoes. The ballet shoes are in a separate cupboard from the shoe closet.
I say, "Don't say it."
She waits silently. I am about to pull out my grumpy face. Instead, I sigh and open the cupboard door to do the check. Sure enough a line of little brown ants are moving in tight formation along the ledge of the cupboard. I reach inside and grab the shoes, the tap shoes as well, and shut the door.
"All clear," I lie.
This discovery results in an emptying of every kitchen cupboard and drawer. The children help by banging pots and lids and wooden spoons, first on the pots, then on the counter and finally on each other. Alex chases Rachel with the beater until he runs out of electric cord.
The cleaning lady comes to help. Do I want to scrub cupboards or take the children to the park? Since Elma is paid to be the cleaning lady, I take the children to the park. We play for an hour. How long does Elma need?
We go for a slushy at McDonalds. She might be done. I do not want to be in Elma's way. I do not want the children to try and help. I especially do not want any cries to save the ants.
However, there is nothing. We go home. Alex opens the shoe cupboard and finds his basketball shoes. Hannah uses the restroom. Nothing. Just when I am prepared to endure permanently the expectation of insects and the shout to "Check the Perimeter," the need is gone. Done. No one cares anymore.
When Grandma is in Charge
The children, ages 3 - 7, are throwing pieces of toast at each other. Grandma should?
Marking the Days
When Mom Gets Home
So, the children and I have come to an understanding. My job is not to prepare them for adulthood. My job is not to discipline, instruct, or scold. Though I can't resist mentioning that noses are not for picking, and we should climb down from the stool while the glass of juice waits on the counter.
My role is to keep the children safe and to provide opportunities for happiness and growth. My job is to love them and enjoy them while I can. Because mom will come home, and I will return to my far away home, I am on temporary assignment.
Without question, this visit is far different than a Sunday afternoon at the home of my nearby grandchildren. This visit carries time and responsibility of a far greater nature than when mom is in the next room. But I am not mom, I am grandma.
After hearing the children say hundreds of times, "When mom gets home." I say those words myself. "When mom gets home, I will be happy. I will be relieved of duty beyond the call. I will miss you guys now that I know you so well.