Weekend at Grandma's House
A few weeks ago I prepared to send my 7-year-old, KM ,off to Grandma's house for the weekend, her first overnight away from home from all her siblings. I knew she needed a break from the chaos at home, the constant push and pull of our big family. KM prepared in her own way, anxiously writing up a list of the things she'd ask Grandma to do. The list looked like this:
1. Take me to McDonald's.
2. Take me to Toys R Us.
3. Take me to the Dollar Store.
KM's Poppy and Grandma (my parents) divorced back when I was 13 years old. In other words, my kids know them with two separate homes and in two different states. So I had to explain to KM shortly after reading her list that a weekend at Grandma's house would be absolutely nothing like spending time with her dearest Poppy, who spoils her with trips to the store for stickers, toys and candy nearly every chance he gets.
When I was a child, I explained, Poppy liked to buy me stickers and toys, too. My Mom, however, preferred experiences as gifts. Never once did I step foot in a toy store with my own mother.
No way. KM looked at me, heart broken. When I was a kid, that fact drove me crazy, too. Now that I'm the Mom, I can give KM the whole stop telling people to buy you things routine.
I felt the urge to warn KM about Grandma even further. Not only would KM not go to McDonald's or to the toy store, but Grandma would likely put her to work. If a weekend at Grandma's house now was anything like I remember, there would be lots and lots of dirt and earth involved and you'd go to bed dead tired every night. KM wasn't sure what to make of what probably seemed like nonsense talk but I knew she'd soon discover what I meant.
See, Grandma believes in this long forgotten idea that kids belong outside. Not just outside, but in the forest, connecting with the earth, learning about the types of trees and wildflowers, feeling the gentle rush of cool stream water across the back of our hand as you lean over the side of a canoe. No cell phones. No Nintendo DS. No television. For me, it would have been a Gameboy. When I was little, I climbed mountains and canoed rivers and creeks with my Mom every other weekend. The rest of the time, we lived with my Dad, went to school and watched television or played with our friends.
KM was in for an adventure, I knew. She'd been on plenty of adventures with me but Grandma was a whole new level of adventure. Grandma is the real deal. She is a woman with two huge black and tan coon hounds, a woman who grows her own food in her back yard, who raises her own chickens and bee colonies.
Off on Her Own
When we met up with Grandma and I let KM go off on her own, I almost cried. I hoped she wouldn't give Grandma any of her "mouth-talk" and occasional bratty demands, etc. If she did, I knew Grandma wouldn't put up with it and KM would call me on the phone: "I want to come home!"
Turns out, KM did just fine and very likely found her soul out there in the woods, just as I did with my Mom years ago. Here are e-mails and pictures Grandma sent me.
"A very local breakfast featured our own fresh eggs and fresh smoked bacon from the local Amish market just a few miles away. She loved the taste of fresh bacon!
At the river she went out a good half mile (there were fishermen much farther out) hopping and jumping, very confident and careful"
"On the beeyard she helped pull the big hive body off the new hive, feed them (see the honey jars) and help inspect the frames for the laying queen."
I really lost it. Tears, tears, everywhere. KM's weekend with Grandma was a masterpiece. I hoped that she would come home refreshed, awakened and aware.
She surprised me with a box full of wildflowers she dug up to transplant into our yard, their roots enclosed in wet, muddy Ziploc bags. In the box, they wilted, silently begging for dirt and care and running out of time. Grandma made her promise to plant them as soon as possible and to take care of them.
As soon as we arrived home, KM was off on her bike across the street with a friend, back to ol' busy as a bee self. My husband planted the wildflowers in our garden, shaking his head at KM's forgetfulness, and watering them himself. Within hours they stood upright.
Even kids need to learn how to slow down and look around at our natural world. At our house, things always moving rapidly. KM is used to the fast-paced, ever-changing environment of a household of six.
At Grandma's house, every minute is appreciated. I remember the feeling well. I'm so grateful that KM felt it, too. It's hard to attain that sense of peace and wonder that you get from a quiet forest when you're back and forth to school, glued to your homework or stuck inside the playroom with your loud and rambunctious little siblings.
I make sure to smile at those wildflowers out in our garden each day where they stand tall and proud and point them out to the kids.
The Next Time
KM says she can't wait to stay with Grandma again. I'm sure her list of to-dos the next time around will be very different.
- Walk along the river, skip stones.
- Hike the Appalachian Trail.
- Feed the chickens, gather eggs.
- Tend to the bees.
- Go to McDonald's.
Wait, what!? What's that last one? Turns out that Grandma did take her to McDonald's after all. Hey, wait a minute!
EJ Curran is a Delaware mom. This post was adapted from her blog, Four Little Monsters.