I don’t remember being in love with my grandfather. When I was in my forties, my aunt would recount to me the love notes I wrote him and how I used to pat his cheeks with my small fingers while sitting in his lap. He loved it and I don’t remember.
My memories of living in my grandparents’ home satisfy so many missing parts of my childhood. Yet the love affair I recall is one with my father. I was madly in love with him. The details of him and I in the summer waters of Key Biscayne in South Florida are as refreshing as the beach was in those days. As he did circles with me in the water, he recounted the day of my birth down to the details of what I was wearing: white dress, white shoes, even a white purse. Even at five, I couldn’t wrap my mind around why I would be born with a purse, but I know I had one and it was white. I remember asking him to marry me and being perplexed when he replied: well, what about your mother? In my mind, she was my mother, not my father’s wife. I would fill that role.
I have just come to the end of a twenty-eight day love affair with my grandson, him and me in a beach house in the Bahamas. Will he remember? He’s not even three. Will he remember how we slept together every night, swam together twice a day, biked to the airport every morning so I could check my “ear-mail” at the only place on the island with wireless? Will his memories include how we dug a coconut on the site where our island home is being built in order to grow a coconut tree? Will he remember the crabs we caught, the castles we built, the sand dollars we painted?
These twenty-eight days were meant as a retreat from my real life in Miami, where we are the primary caregivers of our grandsons, now ages two and one-half and one.
More and more it seems, grandparents have become part of a grandchild’s daily life. With both parents working, or with children of divorce, it’s frequently the grandparent who carpools or shuffles the kids to after-school activities. Baby-boomer offspring, in this economy, frequently depend on their parents for financial support. Grandparents have stepped-up from graduation invitations to fulfilling daily needs, paying daily expenses. Our grandsons live with us so our interaction is 24/7. We are the financial providers, the primary caregivers.
During our four-week affair, I learned every inch of my grandson, how his eyes glaze over when I let him watch just one more cartoon show, please; how he wakes up with pacifier breath in the morning; how he can take ordinary household items and create another world. He found his independence when he no longer needed me to hold him in the water. “I can do it, Abi (his nickname for me), I reach!” He learned how to put on his shoes and dress himself. He memorized prayers and songs. More than a wish for him to remember these days is my selfish desire that he remember them with me.
But this too shall pass, my friends insist. My daughter will find a job, her own home, and raise them. Possibly in time for them not to remember any of this time, our time. Either that or my grandsons will learn to understand as they grow up in the love of their grandparents and other family members. They’ll be just fine, others insist, while I struggle with these new, older, apron strings.
I imagine my grandson in his forties and his aunt, my other daughter, going through our Bahamas photo album, with photos of those twenty-eight days we spent together. “You and Abi were like boyfriend and girlfriend,” his aunt will tell him. “You two were inseparable, so in love with each other!”
There will be the rare picture of me, since I’m the taker of the pictures. He’ll see the pictures of all the visitors he and I entertained those four weeks, and he will linger over those of his beautiful mother, only twenty-two at the time. In one photo, she kneels on the sand, her long bronze body covered only by two white wisps of her bikini. My grandsons wear matching blue sun hats with red crabs. My daughter is laughing at the crab they caught and trapped inside their sandcastle. Her waist-long brown hair is blowing behind her and the boys gaze up at her in awe.
As my grandson flips the pages of the album, his mind will reach into that heart all children are born with, into the place where a special feeling resides, the one which intuitively affirms that love for parents sits above all others. He’ll look at the photos, smile at his aunt, and remember being in love, with his mom.