What I Hope My Grandkids Remember Most From Their Time With Me

Summer Takeaway:
What I Hope My Grandchildren Remember

You can mark your calendars every summer. It's as predictable as a late afternoon thunderstorm, as anticipated as peak corn season, as sobering as the buzz of cicadas. We're talking camp time up here in the mountains, where retired people like my husband and me spend our summers.

Each June, a flood of children from all over the country arrive in our small town for the beginning of day camp near their grandparents. Their parents drop them off with instructions that come with codicils, quickly departing to allow us one-on-one time with the children.

We grandparents have been preparing for weeks.

"I finally found edamame," one friend mentioned casually, punching her tee in the ground mid-golf game.

"That's not how you pronounce it," said her more-knowing partner. "And did you buy shelled or unshelled?"

Edamame, it seems, is a favored vegetable these days, being fun to eat and loaded with protein, a plus for children whose primary protein comes from macaroni and cheese and hot dogs.

Not to be outdone, a woman in the next cart chimed in. "I found a great source for dried seaweed online. My daughter says Chloe eats it like it was Cheetos." Sure she does.

But I'm not about to rock the boat. My shopping list has been fulfilled and I am proud of the column of check marks beside the items requested.

Organic meatballs. Check.

Hot dogs. Check.

Alphabet-shaped french fries. Check.

"Dora the Explorer" yogurt. Check.

Hot dogs. Check.

Hummus. Check.

Hot dogs. Check.

The big day finally arrives.

"Just two more hours," my husband says, looking at his watch. He has dutifully charged the golf cart, knowing full well that before long we will be hearing arguments about who gets to "drive" it first.

And, indeed, before we know it, we are swallowed up in enormous hugs and the energy in our house is super-charged. Game on.

There's a grandson who isn't in the house five minutes before he asks if we have any string. It's too complicated to describe here, but let's just say he installed a zip line that transported an oversized stuffed bear from the upstairs balcony across our downstairs living room and then to the edge of the porch.

Another visits us from the sidewalks of New York and complains that something "smells funny" outside. I'm betting it's fresh air, but I keep my opinions to myself as I plug in her little sister's "white noise machine" so that she can sleep peacefully, undisturbed by any sounds of an errant police chase whipping through the mountain trails. Our 7-year-old gymnast from Los Angeles announces immediately that she can now fly down our staircase three steps at a time.

It's fair to say our days whizz past, from the early fly-by breakfasts and assembly of backpacks to the much anticipated afternoon pick-ups, "family golf," jigsaw puzzles on the kitchen table, messy s'mores and counting fireflies. Our 10-year-old, who could offer tutorials in using the remote, discovered the movie channels early on, which I learned when he randomly called to me from the living room: "What's your credit card number?"

By week's end, a few of us, when we meet at the park or the grocery store (commandeering those hellacious grocery carts that can be "driven" by two children in an attached plastic car) will ask cautiously, "How's it going?"

To a grandparent, we are basking in the joy of these precious children, cherishing every single moment ... and so tired we think we may die.

And then they are gone, as suddenly as they arrived, lugging home suitcases full of river rocks, shells and feathers and we are once again settled in our comfortable routine.

"Ah, this feels good," says my husband, sipping a glass of wine and catching up on the horrific, frightening television news we've skipped for a week. I have to agree as I toss a few leftover edamame beans into our salad. (For the record, they're quite good.)

I wince as I step on a Lego and hope that along with the rocks and feathers these dear children will remember things like the castle they built on our porch, and their grandfather listening to them read "chapter books" aloud to him.

I know that more than 50 years later I can still close my eyes and find myself in my grandmother's kitchen, learning how to make homemade biscuits; can recall holding my grandfather's hand as we made our way up the steep stadium stairs to witness my first professional baseball game. I remember, as if it were yesterday, the vanilla ice cream that melted over the peaches that my grandmother and I bought from the fruit man who pushed a cart down their alley. I smile to myself, recalling the fun conspiracy of staying up later than my parents allowed.

And, then, I catch my breath at what I remember most: my grandfather escorting me to the plane that would return me home and giving me one last hug. We pulled apart from one another, and all these years later, I can still see his dark brown eyes, liquid with emotion, letting me know that, in his world at least, I was simply perfect.

And I hope, with all my heart, that our own grandchildren take home the same knowledge. What better souvenir than the confidence you take through life knowing that someone once believed you could do no wrong. Feathers and river rocks don't stand a chance.

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Carole King