. . . the miraculous is always nearby and wonders shall never, ever cease. Robert Fulghum
There are the ones that you know are “lifers”, those moments that you want to press into your memory and savor forever. And they often sneak up on you, catch you by surprise, and tickle your funny bone. It happened to me this past Wednesday evening, a string of those precious moments that I’m re-living now with a chuckle of appreciation. It started out with an ordinary good-bye on Day Six of an eight-day adventure to Moscow, Idaho. I was visiting my nineteen-month-old grandson Viren and his parents, my son and daughter-in-law, and it was bedtime, and this is what I did each evening at bedtime; I zipped up my jacket, stood by the door of my kids’ townhouse, waved my goodnights and said, “I’ll see you in the morning!” and then I drove off in my rental car, heading for my motel two miles down the road, eager for a night of deep sleep after a day of hard play.
So that’s what I was doing last Wednesday evening, waving my goodnights and blowing my kisses and dreaming of my comfy bed at my home away from home, when the usual ritual took a new twist. Viren, who, with single-focus, had been playing with Thomas and Spencer and his other toy trains over by the couch where his mother was sitting, looked up at me and skittered across the room in my direction. And he beckoned for me to pick him up, and that’s not so unusual; he’s always beckoning for me to pick him up when I am visiting. But what happened next threw me for a loop. As I held onto my toddler grandson, he looked over at his mother and then at his father and he waved his little hand and he said, in a voice as clear as could be, a voice filled with purpose and conviction, “Bye Mommy! Bye Daddy!” And then, with that same confident tone, he let out a command. “Mommy, get coat!” Mommy, get coat? What was he talking about?!? Was he serious?!?
He was serious. He knew what he was talking about, nodded emphatically while his mother, as surprised as I was by this turn of events, picked up his gray fleece jacket, and asked, “Is this what you want?!?” With another, “Bye Mommy! Bye Daddy!” and a tiny finger pointing toward the door and a “Go, Gee” — Gee, that’s what he calls me — it became clear that my before-sleep quiet-time ritual was about to change. My son didn’t think it was such a good idea. “The motel bed is too high; he might fall off. He’s going to miss us in the middle of the night! He doesn’t really know what he wants.” But my daughter-in-law was pretty sure that he did know what he wanted. “I’ll follow them over in our car, go up to the room with them, and we’ll just see.” So, that’s what we did, Viren and I — down the townhouse stairs we went, out to my rental, into the carseat for Viren, into the driver’s seat for Gee, and a drive through town to the motel, with his mother in the Honda Fit following close behind. Viren seemed unruffled by it all, driving his toy Spencer train along the rim of the carseat, and then, a few minutes later, holding it in one hand, while holding onto mine with the other as we skitter-ran with confidence into a motel that he had never even seen before.
No, he didn’t seem ruffled at all. In fact, he acted as if he owned the place, shooting up his arm in a buoyant wave and an exuberant “hi!” to the young man behind the motel’s front desk, marching over to the elevator with Gee, and his mother who had now joined us with an overnight bag of essentials for a nineteen-month-old on the go. Gee lifted him up once the elevator door was closed and he pressed the number three as if he’d been riding in elevators his whole life — and by the time we reached the third floor, he’d added “elevator” — or his still-murky version of the word “elevator” — to his blossoming vocabulary of words and short commanding sentences. And he raced down that long carpeted hallway — a toddler’s dream track for “fast” and then scanned Gee’s generic room with wide astounded eyes, as if he was entering the Taj Mahal. His mother and I stood there waiting while he perused the joint, while he checked out the bathroom with its gleaming sink and granite countertops and reached up and patted the comforter on the king-size bed that his father feared was too high for a toddler overnight. And then there was the “Bye Mommy!” as he beckoned her toward the door, and just like that, there we were, Viren and Gee, alone in a motel room heading into uncharted territory.
And what is it about hanging out with Viren that is so darn fun, that erases any regret at missing out on a spacious evening alone and a deep night’s sleep?!? Well, there’s the adorable factor. Babies and toddlers are so cute that we can hardly stand it and it feels good to bask in their cuter-than-anything vibes. And Viren, he’s always had a penchant for fun and a glint of mischief in those blueberry-blue eyes of his, and I feel a kinship with this invitation to push the limits of play. I know it seems ungrandmothery to say this, but hanging out with Viren is a little like being back in college again, back in the seventies when the fraternity and dorm parties were a wild ride. Except there are no kegs of beer involved, no alcohol at all, just bubbly water for Gee and a bottle of milk for the little guy. It’s the energy I’m talking about. It’s over-the-top; sometimes Animal House silly, sometimes Sound of Music poignant.
The “Gee and Viren overnight” was as fun as any dorm room pajama party that I’ve experienced. It really was. And that’s what we did. We got in our pajamas, Viren in the blanket sleeper with puppy dog feet and Gee in yoga pants, and down we went, Viren in command . “Go, elevator, Gee!” We snacked in the first floor kitchen on tasty water and fruit, then headed back up to our third floor dorm room. And I’d be lying if I said it was all smooth-sailing. What pajama party ever is?!? After the book-reading and the PBS special featuring beautiful young women singing Irish ballads, after the Gee-lullabuys and the second dose of silly, after the neck massage and the rest of the bottle, there was the moment where I wasn’t sure which direction we were heading. At about ten-thirty, at about the time that I was ready, really ready to close my eyes and drift off to sleep, Viren perked up, plopped himself out of bed and started heading for the door. “Gee, get Mommy! Gee, get Daddy!” he said. There was no panic in his voice, no hint that a crying jag might follow, so I matched his tone and replied that Mommy and Daddy were already asleep, that EVERYBODY was already asleep, and I listed the names of the everybodies who were already asleep and I told him that we, too, soon would be asleep and I prayed to my mother and I prayed to my father and I prayed to everybody I knew who had a way with toddlers that this would be true, that soon this suddenly-wide-awake-and-ready-to-party-some -more-toddler-grandson-of-mine and his Gee indeed would be asleep. And we were. After a little tossing and turning of arms and legs, after a thirty-second cry and a grandma hug, after a soft song and a darkened room, we did drift off.
And I’ll never forget this short sweet night of sleep, how I woke up often to make sure that the tossing and turning wasn’t too close to the edge of the bed, how, at three in the morning, the little guy woke up too, asked for a bottle and we lay there quietly and I whispered “I love you!” And I’ll never forget how the little guy also whispered, whispered the names of Spencer and Emily and Mavis and Toby and Diesel Ten , of Thomas the Train and all of Thomas’s train engine friends. And what better way to stay on track during a motel room pajama party with your Gee than to drift back to sleep hauling the list of train engine friends along with you?!?