One of the rites of winter in Florida is the annual visit of the grandchildren. Four years ago I commemorated this event with an essay. Yesterday marked the end of another week that was long on fun, but short on time. So please forgive me while I repost. Four years later, some things have changed significantly, while others have not. Play-Doh and sparkles have been replaced by shopping excursions (this year it was the quest for the perfect Steve Madden shoes), competitive tennis, and a zealous interest in all sports teams whose names begin with the word “Boston.” The pool barrier is gathering dust in the garage. And the current dog doesn’t hide, but jumps right into the fray. Things that have remained the same: the food consumption, the exuberant energy, and the delicious chaos that resonates throughout the house. And, of course, there’s still the laundry. So if you’re reading this for the first time and have grandkids, I think you can relate. If you’ve read it before, maybe, if you’re like me, you won’t remember!
All over south Florida the cry can be heard. Grandparents everywhere have marked their calendars. It’s President’s week, and the children have a school holiday. They will visit, and life as you have come to know it will be suspended for the next five to seven days.
Whether this event makes you feel like Paul Revere or Chicken Little, or perhaps a bit of both, you recognize that the atmosphere becomes charged with anticipation.
In our case, the youngest three of our five beautiful grandchildren, ages five through eight, will be arriving, along with their parents and a teen-aged niece, who will be the mother’s helper. A party of six will be sharing our bed and board. How do I explain this to the dogs?
Over time, I have come to regard these visits in phases – three, to be exact. There is the pre-visit preparation phase, the peri-visit actual time together phase, and the post-visit clean-up phase.
The adrenalin is flowing as I launch into my Phase 1 check-list. There is much to do. The pool barrier must be reinstalled. This is a removable safety fence that surrounds the swimming pool. It’s a two-person job that is a guaranteed to trigger an argument concerning the proper installation procedure. I can’t help but wonder if this will be the year that one of us pushes the other into the water. We somehow manage to get it accomplished and remain dry.
I’m on to Item 2 of Phase 1: assessing toys and games. Will the bikes we bought them last year be too small? Is the Candyland game too babyish? Am I willing to tolerate Play-Doh? Do I mind if the couch gets covered with the sparkles they like to use for arts and crafts projects? Am I still agile enough to step over giant-sized floor puzzles? Will they be upset that I dismantled the Lego tower that they constructed last year? These are all crucial questions.
I decide to make a phone call and ask if there is a special toy or game they would like me to have ready for their visit. “No,” I tell the five-year-old boy, “I will not get you your own I-pad.” But I do promise that we will not make him use his big sister’s hand-me-down pink bicycle.
Moving right along to Item 3. This year we finally decide to give in to the pleas for a new bed for the guest room. The current bed is old and just not big enough. We go to the local mattress store that advertises on television. I look for the tall, good-looking guy who’s in the commercials, the one who owns the company. I figure this is as close as I will get to discuss sleeping with a younger man. I ask for him but am told that he doesn’t actually work on the sales floor. So much for truth in advertising. We buy the bed anyway.
The bigger and better bed requires bigger and better bedding. Another day of shopping results in a new mattress cover, sheets, pillows, blankets, and a duvet. I believe we’ve just spent the equivalent of first-class air fare to Paris.
And last, but by no means least, there is the matter of food. We want to avoid the potential of a child melt-down due to the wrong brand of cream cheese. I ask for and receive a shopping list. It is two pages long. It is also well-organized and categorized into organic, vegan, and we’ll take our chances. Chocolate yogurt from the Swiss Alps? Unfortunately, the nearest organic store is fifteen miles away. No matter. If this is their hearts’ desire, this is what they shall have.
More than an hour of shopping has passed, and I am still looking for something called vegenase. If I only knew what it was, perhaps I could find it. Since I’m unfamiliar with this store, I’ve already sought assistance from every employee, and am embarrassed to ask again. My husband is growing impatient. I leave without the vegenase.
On the drive home we are stuck in traffic. I become anxious that “Amy’s Frozen Strawberry Snack Pockets” and “Uncle Dan’s Frozen Chicken Nuggets Breaded with Organic Gluten-Free Flourless Flour” will thaw. Who are these people anyway? The organic equivalent of Sara Lee?
The next day, I repeat the process at the local supermarket, filling in with those items deemed not pure enough to be sold at the organic store. This is far less humiliating. At least I know where to find the white bread.
Preparation phase is now more or less complete. We are ready.
Our two-car motorcade makes its way to the airport. We wait in the “Meeters and Greeters” area, along with other eager nanas and papas. We are early and check the “Arrivals” board at two-minute intervals. Finally, we see them. It was all so very worth it. The three little ones run to us with outstretched arms.
We wait for the bags and try to use logic on the youngest as to why it’s not a good idea to ride on the luggage belt. He complies, but I don’t think he’s convinced.
They ask me if I’ve bought another puppy so they can each have a dog to walk. I tell them no, that they will have to continue to share the two we have. They are visibly disappointed. Not a good start.
Once outside, we hold a high-level summit meeting to decide who should ride with whom. “You rode with grandpa last year,” the middle one shouts at the oldest. “So it’s my turn now.” Is she making this up, or does she really remember that? My money’s on the latter. Amazing.
We arrive home and review the house rules. The white couches in the living room are still off-limits. Please remember to flush the toilets. And yes, bugs will fly in if you forget to close the doors.
It is a truly wonderful, active, noisy week. They have all become excellent swimmers. So much for the pool barrier. They astound me with their prowess as little fingers fly across the keyboards of I-phones. I know that they are just playing video games, but I am convinced the next step is asking Siri to explain the facts of life.
The bed is a huge success, and I think I am forgiven for buying the wrong kind of chicken nuggets, and not finding the veganase. I also realize that except for a few meals, I haven’t seen one of my dogs in five days.
All too soon it’s over, and the two cars make their way back to the airport. Do I see the older one taking notes on who was sitting where?
Back home, I assess the premises. I am pleased that the house has survived another visit. It was not an invasion , and the sky did not fall.
Time to launch Phase 3. I gather up the wet towels and put them in the laundry room. I think there may be one unused hand towel that my husband and I will have to share for our next shower. The sheets can wait for tomorrow.
Three days later, the laundry is finished, folded and replaced on the shelves. The toys have been gathered and put away. Finally convinced that calm has been restored, the missing dog emerges from the closet.
I find a paper airplane in the linen closet, and pony tail holders on the kitchen floor. A little white tee shirt was left behind in the kids’ room. I smile as I hold on to each of these souvenirs. We shall miss them until we see them again.
But not too much time for melancholy. According to the school calendar, spring vacation is right around the corner, requiring the re-launching of Phase 1 as we prepare for the arrival of the next grouping!
Susan . . . I LOVE your blog! I especially love your outlook on life. There are those that never lose the joy in life and, you don’t want to be around the others.
Thanks Kelly. I hope things are going well for you.
One of your best ( and most accurate! ). You left out one phase: going through the refrigerator and cabinets and finding all the foods they requested but never ate, and it’s always things you would never dream of eating!
I’m in that phase as we speak!
I loved this! You’re a very entertaining writer. When I read it aloud to my husband, he said, “Every grandparent understands this, even if they don’t live in Florida!”
Good read, having just gone through it. Especially love the photos! Book jacket quality.
That’s my special laundry face!
Another wonderful read, Susan. Although our grandchildren are adults now, (one will be married in a few months), I well remember those frenetic and fabulous visits that you described. Thanks for bringing back great memories!
Even four years made a big difference.