Showing up at Gigi’s House

Thanksgiving 2018
We gather around my dining room table to eat our turkey dinner with urgency. Unlike other years, the turkey is not the main event. My daughter, who is 5 months pregnant with our first grandchild, has decided that on her favorite holiday, surrounded by family, she will find out the gender of her baby. We all take our guesses and video them for prosperity. She opens the envelope from the ultrasound technician. It’s a boy! Cheers all around! This first grandchild of the family is a grandson and we are one step closer to imagining his place at this table.

Christmas Eve 2018
Next year’s generational shift will give us new titles: Mommy, Daddy, Aunt, Uncle, Gigi, Poppy and four Great Grandparents. But this year, for one last time, we are simply who we have always been to one another and it gives our gathering a certain preciousness. I assemble my grown children on the staircase for the annual “waiting for Santa picture.” They have outgrown this tradition but for nostalgia’s sake I insist. We move to the family room for drinks, appetizers, conversation and the leisurely opening of gifts. We reminisce about when they were the babies in this room and wonder how this new child will make our gatherings different.

Thanksgiving 2019
It is all different, but in ways we didn’t see coming. The loss of one of those four great-grandparents this summer feels like an open wound as we gather for a holiday meal without him for the first time ever. The sadness of seeing that empty place at the table is softened by the smiles and laughter of an 8 month old in a high chair, oblivious to our pain.

December 2019
This year the decorations dragged down from the attic are assessed for possible risk. At my daughter’s house, this is what leads to a gate bungee corded around a fireplace and a Christmas tree placed behind a couch. It’s less of a compromise at Gigi’s house. I place all the decorations in their normal locations and then allow him to explore with me. I keep a close eye on his hands as I watch him take in all that sparkles and glows.

Christmas Eve 2019
I take the staircase picture. It is more crowded this year. Everyone seems a little more enthusiastic about it, mostly because they are coaxing smiles from a 9 month old. We proceed to the family room. We are most excited to show off to one another the gifts we bought for the baby. He is most excited by a random box amidst the torn wrappings on the floor.

The Holidays 2020
All the grown people are eager to gather with the 1 year old this holiday season. His innocent joy reignites our sense of wonder. We smile more, we laugh more, we get down on the floor and play. We shake off the chill of December and are drawn to the warmth he radiates when our little one shows up at Gigi’s house.

Christmas Morning, Circa 2004
Christmas Eve 2019

Sunshine on the Gray Days

It’s always the same now.  No longer being carried in by a parent, a smile lights up my one year old grandson’s face as he walks in the door on his own two feet. And then, he gets busy. IMG_4385He says hello to the little ceramic bird figure that sits on the shelf at eye level, (his), opens the cupboard I store his toys and books in, (and then ignores them), plays with the switch on the cable box underneath the TV, (because a blinking blue light is more interesting than toys), walks into the dining room to open and close the door that leads out to the sunporch, (because that feels powerful), walks over to the piano to play a few notes, (because he can reach them), and then begins to climb the stairs, (because they are there).  It’s like he is going through a checklist in his head; “These are the things I must do when visiting my Gigi and Poppy.”

IMG_4236Hanging out with a 1 year old during a pandemic is a lesson in perspective.  The macro of life becomes micro.  News headlines and updates that come at me in a confounding disarray are replaced by board books that tell the same, comforting story with every turn of the page. We work together on learning the theory of gravity by throwing rocks, the biology of insects by observing the tiniest bug crossing the sidewalk and cause and effect by seeing what happens if food is dropped from a highchair tray to the dog waiting patiently underneath it.  If only research were this simple in the realm of observational information vs randomized trials and vaccine development for the masses, the world outside these doors would heal a lot faster.

In a one year old’s day there is no room for cumulative counts by zipcode, the confusing intersection of science and politics or the self doubt when deciding how much to venture out of the cocoon of quarantine.  The many problems of the world melt away when you get down on the floor to play with a baby. Naively, I thought I would be teaching my grandson during the days I spend with him but I am pretty sure the lessons he is teaching me are of more value.

IMG_4023He is teaching me that even when times are hard there is room in daily life for love and laughter, smiles and giggles.  Staying in the moment and only concentrating on what is right in front of me, (the block tower, the bouncy ball, the cuddly stuffed dog), keeps the unknowns of all that is outside these four walls from messing with my head.  In a world that is screaming for attention from every platform available, his barely perceptible nod when I ask him a simple question is worth celebrating.  We are communicating!  We understand one another! Oh if it could be that simple in the comments section of any social media platform.

At times it can be worrisome to think of the world awaiting our grandson as he grows up and ventures further than Gigi and Poppy’s house. When those thoughts crowd my head I take his lead and believe that, one way or another, his needs will be met. At my most optimistic moments I look at his innocence and lean on a faith that 2020 will be the beginning of a reset for a world that seems like it is off the rails.  Years from now I hope he will hear our stories of how when he was 1 something unseen unraveled life as we knew it and pointed us toward a re-boot that made the world a better place for him to grow up.  He will be astonished at what we went through, relieved he has no memory of it and grateful we are all together on the other side of it.

Until then, we read another book with a happy ending, (he turns the pages), and then I sing “You Are My Sunshine” to him, (like I did to his mommy so long ago).  I linger on that second line and say a silent prayer of gratitude that this little one is in my life in 2020 to “make me happy when skies are gray.”

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