I catch her busy little body as it flies by on thin legs and swing her onto my lap. She is the granddaughter of flaxen fairies, fair skin and fierce drama. Her legs pump air like a windmill. Giggles burst and gurgle like a brook over stones. It is a capture war and I am the grandma monster, eating up delicate fingers and toes. A tide of love like a physical ache washes over me, already dreading the good-bye, the miles apart. I squeeze her litheness and feel her silky cheek against mine. I unclasp my arms and unlock her prison door. She runs away, chased by the winds of a five-year-old’s dragons.
“Mmmmm,” I inhale the lingering perfume from her hair.
“You smell so good,” I call after her.
As the words exit my mouth I am struck by the curiosity of them.
Why does she smell so good? The scent is familiar, the memory is churning like little squares of memory card animals we turn over and hide underneath again, a mass of illusive overturned lions, tigers and bears.
It comes to me then, the wafting of my expensive perfume in the air. The precious turquoise bottle, like the alabaster one that Mary used to anoint Jesus’ feet, a gift I never would have bought on my own. It is evaporating in the air as she runs around the corner.
Between parenting and grand-parenting some things have fallen into the sofa crack of passing years. I have forgotten many things, things I determined to always remember.
I forgot that objects will be used in ways never dreamt of, that quiet, although desperately needed is ominous, and that silence must never be trusted.
Decorative pillows litter the floor from my kitchen to living room, stones on which to step over molten lava. I’d forgotten. Lips are only the springboard for which lipstick is used, peanut butter and jelly work well for finger paint, and ornate chess figurines take naps before the big ball.
Throws, meant for the back of chairs, make queen’s mantels and fortresses that disrupt the flow of humanity and detour adults. They defy tables and living room chairs, tying up traffic, as if their walls are indeed impenetrable.
Security Alarms work. They are especially loud at 6:25 on a Sunday morning. They keep bad people out but are very effective in notifying grandparents when the troops are making a tip-toe run for the backyard before the exhausted old people rise.
My sin nature is activated by these children I adore. They pull me out of my chair, they wake me out of sleep, they plug toilets and flood bathrooms.
They reveal my own self-centeredness. I feel ashamed. The confusion and lack of routine and sleep tests my attitudes and I am embarrassed to find how rapidly I fall into irritation and blame.
“No Honey, don’t put the necklace around the dog’s neck,” I say as I open the fridge. Coloring pages float down around me like the last of fall leaves. I walk toward the sink, my feet making the slurping sound of syrup sucking the soles of my shoes.
It is last night before the big departure. I wish I’d been better. I wish I’d been like other grandmas. I want to be good and perfect and memorable.
I sit next to the tub where a mermaid is lying in shallow water. Her white hair floats around her as she sings the memorized words of Disney’s Frozen Elsa. The song stops abruptly.
“So Grandma, how did you meet Grandpa?” she asks, with adult-probing curiosity.
“We went to school together.”
“So, did you see him and say, ‘oh wow’ he is handsome?”
While little fingers wrinkle like prunes, while magical bubbles rinse away mud or chocolate, and fish jump through her sea, I tell her the love story of a grandpa and a grandma, and all of my bad washes down the drain like a waterspout.
Extensions of my heart-beat, these are ghosts of my own children. They wrap sticky fingers around my foggy brain and squeeze my heart.
Tomorrow they will go. I will say the dreaded good-bye and wave at the door.
Years ago, when the call of missions pulled our family of six to Italy, our children were the ages of my grandchildren. We returned after three years to find our 7-year-old daughter’s chalkboard message still dusty white on black.
“I love you Grandpa,” it said. Grandpa Schroeder kept it through the absence of years like a protected monument.
Our house will soon be silent. The after-cleansing frenzy which I admit my soul yearns for, will accompany a hollowness in my heart. When order is restored to chaos, I will sit and revel in the stillness but close my eyes to dream of little arms around my neck and wet kisses.
Phil and I will erase the evidence of two weeks and eight grandchildren.
I prepare for this and let a bit of the coming sadness seep into my heart. I gaze through smudged glasses at the confusion of a happy house badly needing aftermath purifying.
On the glass patio door a perfect outline of a small hand upturned like a command to stop arrests me.
When the floors are washed and the toys put away, I wonder, what imprint will they carry from this mad crazy visit? Will the image be of Jesus’ love transferred from my life to theirs? Will His perfume linger in their memories?
I know already that I will be unable to erase the evidence completely. Like Grandpa’s chalkboard of years past, the phantom hand will stay another day, to remind me of important treasures I must never forget.