“You can’t trust kids; they’ll grow up while your back is turned.” Teresa Bloomingdale
Ever witness something so beautiful, it hurts. Ever come across a scene that freezes you in your tracks and makes you wish fervently that you had a camera with you, or the talent of a poet so you could really convey what you are seeing to others.
Ever see or hear something you are desperate to share with others only to realize that it might actually be happening just for you.
Ever feel that tidal wave of gratitude when you realize you are finally being rewarded for your endless, sometimes heartbreaking work all those years as a parent?
After my precious two year old grandson, JuJu, had been terribly sick for days, his parents asked me if I could come and sit with him while they went to an afternoon movie for a much needed break.
I spit out an unqualified YES before they finished verbalizing the request.
My grandson Julius and I are seriously bonded. I would do anything for him. I am fueled by a shameless, unconditional love over which I am completely powerless. I consider my life exceptional in the sheer number of opportunities I have been given to love deeply but no one could have prepared me for the quality and quantity of this affection and protection I feel toward him.
I am not that grandparent who enjoys spoiling the grand kids but am relieved to send them home. (This might be a little bit about being a mom who had to raise a son alone, riddled with guilt while working three jobs and going to school, but getting a second chance to “do it right” with her grandsons.)
Because of proximity, I have been given the profound honor of participating in the lives of my grandsons daily. Like an old-fashioned extended family tradition, (at the time of this writing) they live directly across the street.
Reactions to our family’s living circumstance range from dismay at the imagined expectation of responsibility, to blatant and petulant jealousy at my fortunate nearness to my grandchildren….this latter being primarily (and naturally) from Julius and Luca’s other grandparents.
For us, it just plain works. We all seem to love it and benefit from it. I was raised myself, without any extended family in the picture, but in what might be described as the forerunner to the 1960’s commune type of life. Created Family. My Mom adopted stray kids right and left like others adopt cats. And, after some of my teens and early twenties were spent in actual communes, I continued a form of that tradition with my son, always sharing our uniquely configured house, with at least two or three people, often other single parents struggling to raise children of various ages. Over the years, we would start out calling them “renters” but before long each new group became like family.
I have always believed “It takes a Village”….
Anyway, on this particular day, an extremely ill JuJu had awakened from his third or fourth nap of the day, but this time he was pulled from the relief of sleep because he had one of those sick-kid, diarrhea blowouts that required not only a diaper change but an entire load of laundry to clean up. After taking him into the shower to remove his clothes and to, in essence, hose him down, Michael had dressed Julius in fresh PJs and was drying his hair with a towel. Julius had been the kind of sick that has you achy all over, writhing and stretching for some kind, any kind of relief. Poor baby had not been able to lie still or stop whimpering for days, except during his frequent, fevered naps.
So, unnoticed by either of them I enter the bedroom and see the following scene. Michael and Julius are on the bed with Juju’s tiny limp legs draped over his father’s so that they are two overlapping bodies. This Dad is leaning close to his boy and whispering something over and over that I can’t make out. All the while Dad is ever so slowly and gently rubbing, fluffing and massaging Julius’s long and curly wet hair with a big fluffy towel. He does this well after JuJu’s hair is dry. It is obvious that Michael is continuing because Julius is finally quiet, so relaxed, completely mesmerized by this gentle, nurturing gesture from his “DaDa”.
Julius, already a gorgeous child, has the lovely, peaceful face of an angel. He never takes his eyes from his Daddy’s.
I can remember the exact sensation of a dangerously hot-faced little boy’s cheek next to my own. I know, in the muscle-memory of my arms, if I were to pick up this tiny boy right now he would be a noodle…like sleeping-baby dead weight. He is so tranquil and blissfully pain free for the first time in days.
This father/son love scene continues for a very, very long time…..until Julius drifts off to sleep again. I take over so his Mom and Dad can get out for a bit. It’s been a long week.
Skip ahead to later that evening. I go back across the street to check on Michael and the patient. Juju’s fever has broken and he is on the mend.
As I am leaving, though I don’t want to intrude or embarrass my son, I tell him what I saw earlier in the day. I tell him how beautiful it was to spy on such profound father/son love. I apologize to him for my part in his never having had a father to do this for him when he was a child. I thank Michael for being the Dad I always knew he would be but that no one else would have ever believed.
He gently took me by the shoulders, looked into my eyes and said (with that slightly impatient tone of his that says duhhh), “Mom. I’m just doing for my boy exactly what you used to do for me.”
(excerpt from a chapter of my book)
*A minor disclaimer about the top photo. Those are not scars on Michael’s face or holes in his t-shirt. My scanner was down so I had to photograph an old photo that was wrinkled and full of pinholes.