Not our cabin, but not unlike. I think we will all fit.

I am going on vacation next week. I have also planned a vacation from my vacation the week after our adult children and their families go with us to Colorado. My husband and I will stay on after they leave, for a restorative and invigorating time alone. I would say we are a fairly functional, loving, and cohesive family, blended and tested over many years; that is to say, we are happy like every other family and unhappy in our own particular ways.

We have made this family trip annually since 2003 and, for many reasons, it is the highlight of the year for us. It is also totally exhausting. I am thrilled when the kids come and I am thrilled when they go. My mother used to say this to (an uncomprehending) me when my young family came to visit her and my father. What about having me and my children around for an entire weekend could be anything but wonderful?

My grandmother used to say: “Little children, little problems. Big children, big problems.” I couldn’t imagine what she meant. I used to think that once my children were grown, I would stop worrying about them, stop insinuating myself into their lives, stop trying to convince them that I knew better. Neither did I realize how deeply I could still be touched by their pain, or how profoundly we could hurt each other. At the same time, the flights of pleasure and delight they bring are also beyond my earlier imaginings.

Next week, before everyone arrives, I will shop for groceries in a fashion and quantity I haven’t done for years, except on these trips. New items for the list: barbecue sauce, Doritos, beer, organic whole milk, flax seed, green tea, mozzarella sticks, American cheese, Chewy Chips Ahoy, full-fat Laughing Cow, juice boxes, fake crabmeat, caramel sauce, macaroni and cheese, Dreft, sippy cups, bourbon, ice pops, not to mention frozen organic vegetarian chicken fingers.

There will be many pairs of shoes at the front door in all sizes, and wet towels on the floors of the bathrooms. There will be abundant electronic equipment and much texting. There will be subtle dramas played out behind closed doors as couples or triads retreat to their rooms to complain about us or to talk about how to manage a touchy issue. Michael and I will be doing the same.

There will be wonderful, messy, loud, family dinners. Some nights we will babysit so the kids can go out. There will be delicious quiet mornings on the porch, blowing bubbles with the little ones. There will be cuddling with them in front of the TV. There will be hikes and story hour at the library and swimming and pizza and playground trips. There will be baths. There will be Legos and Thomas the Tank Engine and an American Girl. There will be sweet bedtime books. These moments and hours alone with the grandchildren – together or one at a time – are exquisite, both for their ordinariness and for their joy.

The thing I want to watch out for, however, as I make my way through this first week is the urge I notice in myself to try to compete with the young parents in my life, to show them that I still have the mothering stuff, as in, “Just a minute, now. I was doing this before you were born.” Of course I was. The point is that I am not doing it now, nor should I be. But it jars me anyway — the sense of being discarded, deemed useless or past my expiration date. It is the same impulse that makes old women on the Upper West Side and around the world approach a young mother on the street and announce, “What are you doing outside with an infant in this heat/cold?” or “Put a hat on that baby!” or “Don’t point your finger at that innocent child!” Years ago, when they did this to me, I muttered curses about the old bitches. Once, I even cried.

I will try to accept that I cannot, for the life of me, fold up the stroller correctly. I will never learn the theme songs from the cartoon shows on Nickelodeon. I must shut up about how babies used to sleep on their stomachs. I will admit that I am incapable of assembling the straw of a sippy cup. I will refrain from saying that a rectal thermometer gives a more accurate reading. I will remember that we must use Purell before and after everything. Pasta and cheese for dinner three nights in a row is just fine. Organic butt paste is better than Desitin.

After they leave, Michael and I will clean up, rest up, and go out for a long hike on which we will spend much of the time talking about the people who have just left. We will share a smile and a smirk, knowing that, one day, they will be the ones who know nothing in the eyes of their adult children. I am not the one a crying child runs to for a kiss, but I am lucky that I get to be Nana and watch.

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  • Susan Goldman August 14, 2011 at 11:10 am


    Wonderful piece…you rally capture the family visit..dont have grandchildren yet..but am straddling older parents and their feeling of dispenxibility and my guilt getting aggravated with them:)

    Love this piece and the ambience of the vacation and the visit and all the wet towels and shoes and all your hard work to create an atmosphere for your family that is safe and secure and fun and memorable..and even if your kids don’t say it, they really appreciate you taking care of them and theirs, they are getting a break and maybe don’t realize how lucky they’really are!!

    xo, Susan

  • b. elliott August 11, 2011 at 9:22 am

    “She writes now” and Oh so well does she write.