We started out on our adventure after saying goodbye to mommy and daddy as they left for Africa for two weeks. To an almost six year old and a four-year-old, “Africa” and “two weeks” are irrelevant words. I tried to engage them in studying a map, then the globe but they already thought that North Carolina was a country and that Massachusetts was 100 miles away. They also thought Africa was 100 miles away. Turns out 100 is a good number for a lot of things.
I dreamed about all the opportunities I’d have to bond with them, picturing deep conversations with my granddaughters, their faces rapt with awe and wonder. We would discuss biblical truths, and I would masterfully lead their little minds into new revelation and delightful insight. And in turn, I would gain understanding through their child-like faith, perhaps returning to the grassroots of my faith, rekindling a new fire. Instead the conversation went like this:
Me: Yes, Jesus loves us so much He lives in our hearts!
Brooklynn: Our hearts have to be pretty big!
(Pause) Olive looks confused. She knows her heart could not fit a whole person in it.
Me: (another approach) Jesus loves us so much that he died for us and rose…
Olive breaks in: Rosie?
Rosie is my dog. She heard “rose” and was grasping at something familiar.
Me: (trying not to laugh) No honey, “rose” means to be alive again. Like Jesus, he’s alive!
They are politely silent. This conversation would later spark another lively talk about dogs in heaven.
I had three brothers and I raised three boys. The most girlie thing my mom ever did with me was show me how to make a southern biscuit. I even had my hair trimmed at the barbers with my brothers. But someone suggested taking the girls to the Tea Room was the ultimate feminine experience. “They’ll love it!” and I was in. I saw the three of us sipping tea together and daintily nibbling on scones with clotted cream, giggling like southern debutantes. Perfect!
“Today we are going to the Tea Room!” Then the polite silence again. But they put on dresses and we headed out. On the way, Olive fell asleep and it was about 97 degrees out so when we arrived I had to carry her little sweaty body into the crowded Tea Room, knocking against the small unsteady tables, then plopping down at the one the young waiter pointed to, almost pulling the entire table cloth off with the fine china and silver ware on it. Olive put her head on the table and sucked her thumb. They had some hats and fake jewelry there for little girls and Brooklynn put on a hat, sparkly bracelets and huge dress gloves which she tried to eat her chocolate cake with. Olive just said, “I don’t want to,” and put her head back on the table.
It seemed like everything the waiter brought, the girls found disgusting, although Brooklynn became infatuated with a bowl of sugar cubes, using the dainty little prongs to extract about 20 of them into her tea. And Olive finally woke up enough to discover clotted cream, which she thought she could eat with a butter knife. We left laughing, we left a huge mess and I left a big tip.
I had to slip in and out of being a grown up and a five year old which can make you dizzy and a little schizophrenic. I thought a lot about my own childhood as I watched them navigate the timeless stretch of each new day. There was an easy rhythm to it and my own long summer days returned to me. I could hear the skip of the small flat stone on the concrete as I played hopscotch, often alone. I could smell the bark and leaves of the huge maple tree in my front yard that I climbed up into, leaning against the cool trunk; my hiding place as I watched the world go by on the sidewalk below. I can still smell the rain on the hot pavement; feel the warm puddles and slick stone on my bare feet. The neighbors’ yard became a farm, the woods behind the garage, a jungle, the small lot next door we called “the field”. The world was big, but not too big.
Two weeks was a long time for all of us but the girls were good as gold, inventing new games and drama daily. In one play, Olive was a lost sinner and Brooklynn led her to Christ, which was simply Olive saying Jesus I love you so much! It occurred to me that they really didn’t need my spiritual guidance. One day I overheard them playing “Orphans.” In the first go around, mommy was dead. The second act, dad had died.
“How did he die?” Olive asked.
“In Africa,” Brooklynn said matter-of-factly.
“Yeah, in Africa.” Ollie concurred. Then they made tea.
I wanted to make my last morning there special. We had had our usual sleep over in the den the night before, and Brooklynn almost made it to the end of Mary Poppins as Olive snored. I love that movie. Okay I bought it for me. Anyway, Brooklynn had told me that she LOVED chocolate chip pancakes a few days earlier so I gently woke her up, proudly announcing that her chocolate chip pancakes were ready. She loves breakfast so I was a surprised to see her fidgeting in her chair as the pancakes grew cold. She pushed them around a little and took a few small bites, then got up to play.
“Brooklynn, don’t you want your pancakes?” I called after her, spatula still in hand.
She turned and said ever so sweetly, “No thanks you!”
“I thought you liked chocolate chip pancakes,” I said frowning at the frying pan with four more pancakes in it.
She shrugged and looked sideways then smiled again.
“Um, maybe you can practice a little more Ama!” I smiled back, masking my shock. Ok. I admit I wouldn’t know what bad chocolate chip pancakes tasted like since the whole idea is gross to me. I said reality could be humbling.
Goodbye was hard for me because I had to be a grownup. I know it will be a long time before I see them again. But I think of the best parts; watching a firefly blink off and on in the hot summer night, pretending we were a bullfrog family, doing our nails before a rodeo (their idea), and all of the Ama, I love you’s that I could ask for. Thanks girls, for allowing me into your real world, and letting me stay there with you. I hope I can bring some back to my world.