My daughter and her husband leave town every year around July 4th to visit college roommates, suck down Jell-O shots, pretend they’re twenty-something and forget they’re parents. While the parents party, the grandparents go on active duty.
I share Henry and Ruth with their other grandma for the weekend. Gigi, my co-grandma, can outlast me in patience, stamina, tolerance, and flexibility. She takes the first shift beginning Saturday morning and because she never says no, she spends the night with 3-year-old Henry on the couch.
Sunday, I go to church to pray for strength then go home to sprawl on the couch for a few hours to conserve energy. Gigi and the kids play Barber- Shop-Play- Dough after breakfast. Then Gigi joins the kids on the Slip-N-Slide, takes them to see ducks on the canal, stops at the ice cream shop, jogs with them on the Monon Trail pushing a “special stroller” she keeps in her garage, while pointing out dogs, squirrels, and pretty flowers, then the three of them bake brownies for Meme. All of this happens before nap time.
I arrive at 3 p.m. just in time for Ruth and Henry to get up and be ready for second shift. I see disappointment on Henry’s face. Ruth’s happy; she doesn’t realize the difference in her grandma’s yet. I talk more than I move. I don’t play in a swimsuit and I don’t like 90 degree heat. I don’t travel with a 3-year-old and one-year-old. I don’t jog. I don’t spend the night with 3-years-olds on the couch. I don’t always say yes, and I never get out a mixing bowl.
We begin our 24 hours.
Henry’s smart. He knows Meme’s a good listener. I follow a toddler’s story like no one else. He begins his stories. Ruth brings me a book. All she wants me to do is turn pages, bark or quack, and make occasional eye contact. I can do two things at once so that makes both kids happy. Henry wants a snack. I’ve brought mini-cookies in a cup, .99 from Target. We go to the front enclosed porch and make three piles of cookies on an end-table, while two pugs snort by our feet. One-and-a-half-year-old Ruth wants to double-fist her cookies. The pugs are excited. Ruth drops most of her cookies and then goes for Henry’s. He head-butts her. I understand.
I console Ruth and give her my cookies, two at a time. She eats one, drops one. The snorting gets louder. The cookies are gone. The tile floor is covered with books. Henry brings couch cushions to the porch and both kids pole-vault over the entry rug onto the pillows and slip on the books. Within minutes both are crying and Ruth’s diaper is looking dark. Diaper change, no poop. Henry brings drums to the porch. He wants me to dance while he plays. I dance. Ruth wants the drums. Another fight. Henry’s thirsty so he grabs Ruth’s drink. She screams because she doesn’t talk yet, though I’m sure she could. I grab Ruth because she’s hitting Henry. She rips out my earrings. Henry throws her cup at her and she cries.
I play the drums and we dance.
Henry wants the TV on. I can’t figure out the three remotes. Henry wants gum. I don’t have gum. He doesn’t believe me. I give him one of Gigi’s brownies that he helped make. Ruth wants a brownie. She runs to the couch, chews on the brownie, spits it out. I clean her and the couch. She gets in the dog cage then cries because the dogs won’t come in with her. I give her some pretzels. Ruth and the dogs sit in the cage eating pretzels.
I’m working with the three remotes. Henry wants Spiderman. The dogs run to the porch to bark at the door. Ruth cries and follows them. Newman, the fat pug, starts crying. I drop the remotes, go to the porch and see Newman’s got his toenail caught in the wicker shades on the door. He’s jerking; the shades are being pulled by Newman and Ruth. Henry is yelling at Newman. The other pug is still barking. I look at my watch. It’s 4:30.
I get the TV working. I can’t find Spiderman, but I’ve found King Kong.
“Look Henry, it’s the biggest monkey in the world.”
“That’s a gorilla”
“Oh, yeah you’re right. Look how nice he is to that girl. He’s holding her while she sleeps”
The monster-bats sweep in, the gorilla wakes up, the girl’s boyfriend tries to save her, and the gorilla tries to kill him. The monster-bats get bigger and multiply. This isn’t how I remember King Kong.
“The gorilla is mean. This is scary.”
“I’m going to change it. Henry, it’s not real. Nothing on TV is real. That monkey is a robot.”
I find Strawberry Shortcake and get a dirty look. Ruth likes it. Henry starts stuffing a blanket in his mouth. He can stuff about 8 inches of a crochet blanket in his mouth.
While Ruth watches TV and Henry sucks on the blanket, I go make dinner. Grilled cheese, potato chips, and Spaghetti-Os requested by Henry. I cut the sandwiches into fours, and heat up the Spaghetti-Os in a coffee cup. I lock up the snorters and take the food to the coffee table. Ruth starts eating grilled cheese and chips. Henry sucks on the blanket. Ruth wants the Spaghetti-Os. Henry doesn’t care. I give Ruth spoonfuls of Henry’s dinner. I make Henry take his blanket out and take a bite. He says it’s too hot. Ruth keeps eating Henry’s food. I warn Henry. Ruth keeps eating until the spaghetti is gone. Henry hates grilled cheese. He’ll eat peanut butter on crackers. He looks at the crackers and keeps sucking. I take the blanket away and he eats two crackers. Ruth takes the crackers to the dogs. Henry puts the blanket back in his mouth.
Cups, dirty dishes, cushions, toys, books, bedding, clothes, playing cards, and crayons are all over the porch and house. It’s bath time. Henry gets in the tub and starts opening shampoo bottles. He gets soap in his eye and cries. I fix Henry’s eye. I take Ruth’s diaper off and poop falls on the floor. The pugs are snorting. Ruth is trying to climb in the tub. Henry is shooting me with a squirt gun.
The day has been chaotic with some crying, but there has been much more laughing clapping, singing, and dancing. There have been lots of hugs and kisses. There have been no phone calls, texts, internet, or emails.
The babies get out of the tub. Ruth pees on the bath rug. I hurry the naked babies to their bedroom.
I get Ruth’s pajamas on her. Henry wants to sleep in Aunt Jill’s old little league softball shirt. He wants to know the number on the shirt. He takes Ruth to mom and dad’s bedroom. Both of them climb up on the bed and start diving and doing somersaults. The dogs are snorting and the kids are laughing. Twenty minutes later, both are in bed and I’m telling them stories. I forget that Henry believes everything I say, so I have to explain that a witch cannot really cast an evil spell and turn a man into a frog. I’m not sure if he believes me, but he’s exhausted. I hope the nightmares from a day with Meme hold off until his parents come home.