Three-year-old Adrian is curled in a ball at my stomach, as if returning to the womb. Five-year-old Elliot is on my other side, his face buried in my neck. It’s the middle of night two, and our first one at my home. The moms are in France for the Women’s World Cup and I am paying forward to the day they will care for me in my dotage. These boys are mine and I am theirs for twelve and a half days.
This is the fourth Camp Gigi for Elliot, number one for Adrian. I had not anticipated having both of them quite yet or for quite so long, but the opportunity for the moms to take a much deserved break was a gift I gladly gave.
As I publish this post, the adventure is over. If you are my friend on Facebook, or with one of the moms, you can get blow-by-blow daily details and lots of photos on my page. Hopefully, with my first chance to breathe, think, create outside of the extreme grandparenting box, this blog post will be a bit more reflective than those dashed off in bed after the Littles went to sleep, when I was longing for that state myself, but powering through journal-keeping.
It occurs to me that neither mom has solo parented both of these precious, spirited Littles at the same time, 24 hours a day, for nearly two weeks—nor anywhere near that long. That they trusted me to do it—while perhaps misguided—was the biggest act of love, faith, and respect they could offer me. That there was virtually no feedback from the boys about being left with me, of their beloved mothers being accessible only via occasional phone call or FaceTime, was testament of good parenting and their comfort with me. I am not a stranger.
The night Adrian anxiously cried out, plaintively calling, “Gigi! Gigi! Gigi!” instead of “Mommy”—about half way through the sojourn—I knew I had arrived in his deepest heart. I stopped sighing deeply when it woke me and started kind of loving going to him in a way I never did when I was on the “Mommy, Mommy, Mommy” end of such calls from my own children; when I wondered why the heck, just once, it couldn’t be “Daddy, Daddy, Daddy.” When he quietly came to my side of the bed and reached out to be pulled onto the high mattress and tucked his small warm body next to mine, I got why his moms haven’t worked too hard to get him to stay in his own bed. These days and nights are short, and then he will break free and they will be gone forever.
Our days were filled with art and field trips, walks in the woods and games in the yard and meadow, picking peas and lettuce and pulling carrots in the garden. And watching soccer games, of course. And 37 meals.
I may have slept four hours a night, at least before the moms promised Elliot a reward for every night he stayed in his own bed. The first night of the challenge, he said, “But I’m afraid I will miss you, Gigi.” “I’m right here if you need me,” I reminded him. “But then I won’t get my surprise,” he said. Life is full of hard choices. He was successful the seven nights since. I kind of missed him.
It was challenging, I won’t lie. Since my mother died (you can read posts from that five and a half year adventure in my Daughter on Duty blog here), I have become accustomed to a home with everything mostly in its place, a calm atmosphere, abundant alone time, freedom to come and go at will. This was none of that. And I didn’t read a single word in a book without pictures. I practiced letting go of all expectation, of all want for myself. It was a stretching exercise to replace the yoga I didn’t go to.
I found myself starting to tell them to stop doing something, then caught myself. Why was I saying no? There was no likely harm to self or property—though of course everything carries some risk, but what better time than resilient childhood to learn what is worth the risk and what is not? Was it just because it was annoying me? Just because I thought one of their parents would discourage it? Just because my head was going to explode if they didn’t stop? I practiced not automatically saying “no” when one of them asked to do something just because I didn’t know the outcome and didn’t want to deal with it. It wasn’t about me. They are learning to be exploring children, and I am learning to be an encouraging grandparent.
Maybe the best times of all have been the opportunities to praise them for a job well done. Elliot is learning to be courageous.
Elliot: Gigi, I hate to have to tell you this, but I brokted a piece of the Marbleworks.
Me: It was very brave to tell me, Elliot. Thank you. It’s okay.
On the playground at Northwest Trek, other—bigger—children took the driftlogs he was building with when his back was turned. As Adrian slept in my lap, I watched Elliot consider what to do about it, and then approach the biggers to tell them he was using them. Apparently they had a “better” argument for keeping them and he walked away. I called him over and told him how much I respected him for doing a hard thing and sticking up for himself.
Adrian is learning at the speed of light to do any number of things for himself, including dressing and undressing himself, and buckling his car seat. “I do it on my own!” It takes more time and patience sometimes than I thought I had, but I called it up, knowing this charming boy with encouraging parents is one day going to use his independent spirit for great good in the world.
My heart broke at the ongoing news and images of migrant children being ripped from their parents and held in horrific conditions; of reading about studies of long-term effects even a short time of not knowing what has happened to those whose job it is to care for them has on children. I doubled down to make sure these two little guys know they will never be abandoned, even if their parents are temporarily away; which, of course, is what migrant parents thought they were teaching.
I dashed off my Facebook journal each night before sleep and—as in my mother care journal—tried to be honest about how hard this was, even if it wasn’t very flattering to me. The comments of readers saying it made them laugh, of their admiration of me for doing it, of my honesty in the relating got me through; as they did in mother care. You were my support group, and lightened the load. My friend Sue, sister Rebecca, and Emma and Wynne’s generous friends when we returned to Seattle for week two, gave me support and small breaks. I am grateful.
I have great respect for single parents who do this every day, with no end in sight. I wasn’t patient. I lost my shit and had to apologize many times. “It’s okay, Gigi,” they both said. No, it’s not. But I reminded myself that I am 67 years old. This is not the natural order of things; even less so than children caring for parents. Permanent custodial grandparenting has got to be an unsurpassed act of familial love. I relinquish my temporary crown to those who do it day in and day out. And yes, I would do it. And I sure as hell hope I never have to.
As I drove home, alone, I noted the tears not quite spilling, the lump in my throat, the knot in my stomach. What is that? Relief or sadness? Like when my mother died, and I was freed from caring for her, it is both. Unlike the end of mother care, though, life with these beautiful boys and their mothers will go on, Spirit willing, for many more years.
Lots of photos (if you followed my Facebook posts, you’ve already seen these).