I like to think I became a grandparent at a fairly young age (don’t we all?). Let’s don’t dwell on whether that is a delusion. Just believe me when I say that life can sometimes look very similar to the way it rolled before the age of the spirit begins to diverge widely from the age of the body, and before the family grew by an additional generation. Some challenges with my grandchildren are the same ones I had with my own young daughter, raising her as a single mom beginning almost three decades ago.
Chief among those is the struggle to give the children more of my time. Like so many grandparents today, I remain a working professional with a more-than-full-time job and a family I adore that is spread over many miles. Add to those factors a desire to give time back to the community and reasonable attempts at a social life and downtime, and the sum total spins the days forward at a turbo-charged pace. And the only thing moving faster than the merciless calendar is the rate at which the children mature and change, and the heart longs not to miss it.
So it was that I was deep into some rudimentary problem at the office a few days ago when I noticed my cell phone vibrating on silent with a call from my daughter. This was not routine; she has much-appreciated respect for the moderate insanity of my usual workday and almost never calls me before 6 p.m. It was a few hours before quitting time, but I couldn’t stifle a prick of anxiety, so I picked up her voice message at my first opportunity.
“Mom,“ says my daughter’s voice, chirping out on the speaker, “sorry to bother you at work, but Sis wanted me to call you. She just said she wanted to talk to you, so I thought I’d try and see if you could pick up. We’ll catch you later. Bye!”
Sis wanted to call me? I’m charmed to distraction, wondering what was on her three-year-old mind. I must call back ASAP to ascertain. But various tasks loom large before I can finish the day, so rush, rush through those, rush home through annoying traffic, rush the dog out for her business and fill her food bowl. Where did the day evaporate to? The sun is low on the horizon. Breathe at least once—now, time to call Sis back.
Well, hang it, it’s already her bedtime. Time got away from me again, but I’ll try anyway. And let’s tap the wonders of technology and use the videophone, and maybe I’ll get a glimpse of that little face. My daughter, who knows me well, picks up even though they are cuddled in Sis’ bed, finishing a story with the lights down. “You can talk to Evie for just a minute,” says my daughter softly to her little one, turning the camera to center it on the child, “then it’s bedtime.”
I can see Sis’ expression in the dim late light, and she is tired. Her mother’s voice is tired, and I am beyond tired myself. Hey, sweetheart, I say softly, I heard you wanted to call me, so I wanted to be sure to call you back. What’s on your mind?
“Evie,” she begins, then falters, facing the camera’s eye, squirming and digging deeper into her covers. Yes, precious? I encourage. “Evie,” she repeats, with uncharacteristic brevity, snaring a lock of hair on a tiny finger and tugging it while she contemplates my face on the phone screen. Yes, sweetheart, I inquire again, debating to myself whether this is an expert bedtime-avoidance stall or something our little chatterbox really needs to share. (Sis is an Olympic-level competitor in the Bedtime Stall.) Either way, Time My Enemy is ticking away, and I want to be out of my work clothes, off my feet, and tucking into some form of late dinner. My heart wants to complete this little circle, but my head wants to get on with it. My toes are not tapping with impatience, but they are thinking about it. Why does it always, always have to feel like time is so short?
“Sis, we have to hang up so you can go to sleep,” prompts my daughter with admirable patience (while I hope my lack thereof is not showing). “Tell Evie what you need to tell her.”
The child heaves a tired sigh and turns toward the phone screen for one last effort. “Evie,” she says slowly and carefully, “I love you.”
And for just a moment, time stops.