My 3 year old granddaughter was already asleep when I arrived at her house a little after 10 on Friday night. But she had gone to bed knowing that “Grandpa Mike” would be there when she woke up.
And so, about an hour before it was reasonable for me to get up, Izzy came tiptoeing into my bedroom, exuding this “Oh, what a wonderful morning” energy. Her beaming grin made me quickly forget the extra sleep I’d just lost.
After picking her up to hug and twirl her around, we headed back into her bedroom so I could help her pick out her outfit for the day. More exactly: so I could watch her pick out her outfit. She chose purple tights with flowers, and when I told her they looked like California “hippie pants,” she looked baffled. It turns out that it’s not easy to explain hippies to a 3-year old.
She then picked out an outfit to go with the pants: a gray thick top that made her look like a sheep. The sheep-top (oddly) had a yellow skirt attached. By the time she was dressed, she looked like a Vermont hippie in the middle of winter. It looks like Isobel has inherited her fashion sensibility from her Grandpa Mike. Everyone else in the family is hoping it's just a phase, not an inheritance.
I told her about how her mom used to get dressed, way back when she was three. Izzy wasn't really interested in that and gave me a skeptical look when I tried to tell her that I’m her mom’s dad. She changed the subject by asking me who my dad was. I told her that his name was John. She asked me where my dad was, and when I reported that he had died, Isobel got a pained look on her face and blurted out “O man…” She knew enough to be empathetic with me, even though the whole concept of death is no clearer in her mind than the idea of a “hippie.”
We went downstairs and she decided I should read her a book before breakfast. It was about mother animals putting their offspring down for the night. Izzy likes that book because she gets to rub the fake fur that has been glued onto the animal pictures. I thought it was a strange book for her to give me because Isobel herself does not like going to bed.
Like her fashion sense, I think she also inherited that dislike of bedtime from me. Her parents told me that “Bedtime for Isobel” has gotten “out of hand” at their house.
Since I’m not the one who has to put her to bed, I can afford to be more analytical about the whole situation. A child may not comprehend “death” in the big sense of the word, but she knows what the “death” of a day means: no more eating, drinking, stories, talking, playing, singing, music, friends, TV, attention from mom and dad… If her parents could just get her to accept the death of a day with the same offhand “Oh man…” she came up with about my dad… But a dying day is so much more real to a little child. It is a legitimate grief and anguish.
We all walked to a little café about 4 blocks from their house. Nelson, Alison, Isobel, Fitz the dog, and Grandpa Mike. The flowers are starting to bloom in St. Louis, and Isobel helped herself by picking someone’s hyacinth along the way, causing the other three humans in our pilgrimage to become distressed. I pompously explained that there were “planted” flowers and “wild” flowers, and that we have to ask the people who live there if we are allowed to pick the “planted” ones. I ventured that it would be okay to pick the “wild” flowers. And so we gathered violets and dandelions. Her parents seemed glad to have someone else along to handle these matters for once.
It was sunny enough for us to eat outdoors: bagels, apple juice, biscuits and gravy, and coffee. On the way home Isobel got cold and decided her dad should carry her the last two blocks on his shoulders.
When we got home Isobel gave us a dance recital. She has now been taking dance lessons for five weeks. As the music played, she pretended (in dance) to sleep, swim, fly, do chores, etc. I was impressed: with only five lessons she already has more dancing skill than me.
After the dance she cuddled next to me and we talked about “jobs.” I asked her what work her mom and dad did. She was a little foggy about the details but knew that it had something to do with their computers. I told her that her dad used his work computer to help people get food. And her that her mom used the computer to help farmers plant trees. Isobel nodded approvingly. Then she looked up at me and wanted to know what her job was. I said, “you have the same job as me. Our job is the most important of all: it’s our job to make people smile more.” She thought about it... then gave me a fake smile.
Izzy then gave me my next job: reading “Jack and the Beanstalk” to her. Is it just me, or has the story changed? I vaguely remember the golden harp from 33 years ago, (when her mom was little.) But I’m pretty sure we didn’t know back then that Jack eventually married a princess, sired three kids, and collected four cats.
After lunch, Izzy took a nap and I had a chance to talk to her mom, uninterrupted. We chitchatted, about work, her pregnancy, other relatives, and Izzy. When Alison and Nelson asked her what names she wanted to give a little sister or brother, she came up with Elsa if it’s a girl (from the movie “Frozen”) and Grandpa Mike if it’s a boy. I was flattered, but I’m afraid a name like that might be a real drag on a little bloke just trying to start out in life.
After Izzy got up from her nap, the two of us headed out to the nearby school and playground. It was 65 degrees out and sunny. It took us a long time to walk the three blocks, as Isobel stopped to pick up flower petals (falling from trees), sticks, rocks, and pieces of litter. Each was as exciting in her eyes as finding gold. She stopped to pat the ivy growing up a hill. She wanted to walk atop rocks and bricks and railroad ties bordering people's yards. She reminded me that I shouldn’t pick “planted” flowers. When I pointed out robins and squirrels, she yelled happy thoughts at them, sending them scurrying out of sight. At the park she made me go down the slide with her (5 times), pretended we were driving a bus to the zoo, asked me to hold her hand while she navigated the balance bars, and made a pretend picnic for us. On the way home, with two blocks to go, she told me she was tired and needed to ride on my shoulders. And so she did.
I write this at the end of my Day with Isobel as a way of giving thanks and committing to my memory the gift of this visit. I’ll write more “Days with Isobel” in the future, as well as “Days with Sean” and “Days with Maple” …and days with all other grandchildren I’ll know. They won’t remember as I do. But someday it might be a gift to them, reminding them of the innate joy that is, and always will be inextricably part of who they are.