Recently, my wife and I watched our three grandchildren, ages seven, five and three, while their parents enjoyed a four-day vacation. We soon learned why nature rarely blesses sixty-year-olds with children.
“It’ll be more chauffeuring than babysitting,” our son assured us. “They’re in camp all day. All you have to do is feed them breakfast, pack their lunches and play with them when they get home. They fall asleep soon after dinner.”
Sounded simple enough, although I sensed a potential problem when we received a color-coded spreadsheet from our daughter-in-law displaying the children’s food preferences. Anna and Conley eat chicken; Willow eats only fruit and vegetables. Two prefer rice while the other likes potatoes. Canned peas are fine, but not canned corn. Broccoli is Anna’s favorite, but not the others. Conley will eat salad without dressing. No salad for Anna. Willow likes ranch dressing.
Honestly, I thought this was a parody until we fed them breakfast. They all wanted cereal, but Conley liked his with raisons. Willow wanted her raisons separate. Toasted waffles were fine, one with maple syrup and one without. We soon discovered why we were warned not to let Conley pour the syrup himself.
While I tried cleaning the sticky goo from the table and floor, Vickie told them she was packing peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for lunch.
“Could you cut off the ends, please.” Anna asked so politely, she couldn’t resist.
“I like ends,” Willow shouted, fearing food would be taken from her. “But only jelly. Peanuts are yucky.”
Conley said he didn’t want a sandwich, but we were warned if we didn’t pack one he’d be mad when he saw his sisters got peanut butter and jelly and he didn’t.
While they put on their sneakers we added apples, cookies and juice, deciding not to ask them or to check the spreadsheet.
Lunches packed, we herded them into the car and carted them off to camp. We soon learned why our kids had bought a minivan. Squeezed into the back of our Camry, we tried answering their questions. “If we put wings on this car, could it fly?” “How come that building is taller than that one?” “When will you die, Grandpa?”
But before attempting the last one, the chatter turned ugly.
“Conley. Stop touching me.”
“Willow did it. Not me.”
“I did not”
We played I Spy until we arrived at the camp. They seemed as eager to escape from the car as we were to see them gather around their counselors.
That gave us a few hours to run errands, go to the gym, relax. Instead, we drove home and napped. By the time we cleaned up the kitchen, it was time to begin the chauffer routine. The little one had to be picked up at one; the others at three.
It was a short ride home from her camp, but we soon discovered if we didn’t have a snack ready for her in the car, this cute little munchkin turned on us. Fast. “Feed Me!” I heard the plant in Little Shop of Horrors demand. “I’m so hungry,” she whined. We stopped at McDonald’s to hold her over until her next snack. Wisely, we dashed home for food before we picked up the other two.
“Don’t tell your brother and sister we went to McDonald’s,” I said.
So it was time for another round of McDonald’s. After all, the snacks we had brought were devoured by the time we got them all into their seatbelts. Willow, the vegetarian, had another order of Chicken McNuggets. I decided she was probably right about them not containing meat.
At home, we were regaled with stories about their exploits at camp. “I swimmed all the way across the pool,” Anna bragged.
“I swam,” the former English teacher in me corrected.
“I swammed,” she said.
We read to them and they read to us. We roughhoused, sang songs and rode bikes. They played with each other and their friends for at least five minutes at a time. We fed them again, bathed them and finally wrestled them to bed, like cowboys lassoing calves.
Exhausted, Vickie and I let the molecules in the air settle as we sank into the couch, stared at whatever happened to be on TV, and delighted in the knowledge that in just three days the grandkids would be returned to their rightful owners.
Just three more days.