The grandchildren are growing up so quickly it almost hurts to watch it. With spring birthdays just weeks apart, Buddy and Sis are about to turn eight and six, respectively, and change seems to manifest even in the (luckily) small intervals between visits. Oh, you are taller AGAIN, I catch myself wailing in despair as I wrap a hug around Buddy’s thin, lanky frame, as though I could expect him to slow his growth down himself, or he was somehow responsible for it. And look how neatly you write your name, I exclaim to Sis, with a touch of melancholy, so proud but aching, just an itty bit, for the little-kid days that are vanishing.
Visits here at G-ma’s house have, naturally, evolved to very different affairs. Gone are the spoon-only meals and the ubiquitous fear of (and prevention strategies for) potty accidents. There’s no need to sweep the house for breakable objects that require removal to a higher plane or invisible location. I can leave them alone in a room for a few minutes while I change a load of laundry or provide a quick pee break for the dog, as long as I keep an ear tuned for the inevitable flare-ups of sibling bickering. Those blow in and then dissipate with eyepopping speed, and occasionally some intervention to prevent bodily injury is imperative. (As one of four children myself, I accept this dynamic as only a veteran can.)
Entertainment and productive occupation are ever-new scenarios, as well. The kids are plenty old enough to contribute competent help at meal time and often request the opportunity. Imagine my pride (though I’ve learned not to overreact to certain things in the moment) when Buddy approached me in the kitchen recently and said, “Is there anything I can do to help?”
Cleaning up after play, on the other hand, is a skill which might lag just a tad behind others in their precocious development—putting them on par with their peers for all history, one can only assume. They will do it when nudged, and unless tired or puny will apply themselves with minimal resistance, but there is one outcome that remains predictable as the months and visits fly by. It’s like a signal, or a code for anthropologists, the ultimate provenance that they were here.
They leave some small objects behind, or out of place, and I usually have no earthly idea what they are.
I found this mildly scary-looking thing, for example, on the coffee table by the sofa about two visits ago. What on earth could it be? Perhaps that’s the problem; it’s not of Earth as grandparents know it. A body part of an alien being?
Another time, there was a handful of these on the couch cushions and under the ottoman.
The highly organized and efficient among us (and bless you, wherever you are; do drop by some time if you need work) would move swiftly to toss these objects and sweep the environment clean for the next round. Oddly, I cannot bring myself to do it. Look at this cute little guy, for example; surely he has an important role of some sort? Don’t you love the moustache?
I’ve taken to heaving them into a pottery pedestal bowl on my kitchen counter, a readily visible catch-all for things that need to migrate on, elsewhere. When the kids come next, I try to wedge an interlude in the conversation for identification and instructions on these items. Keep or toss? Take home or leave here? Functional or broken?
Why bother to wonder? Any number of reasons, I guess. Maybe I’m hoping that reunion of child with object will solve some niggling puzzle, provide some bit of closure, restoring something they feared lost forever. More likely, they have a hopelessly curious grandmother, who really just wants to know what these items may tell me about their imaginations, their evolving skills. If the mystery objects turn out to be important, maybe it will stimulate an interesting conversation, and they’ll remember I cared to ask. Maybe I’ll learn something interesting. Or unnerving. Or both.
So, the pile of kid-visit detritus in the bowl stays, for now, changing in shape and composition with time and the seasons but still magnetic, like the dollar section at Target. A rough projection would indicate that one item out of three is reclaimed from the bowl to the right place, over time. That’s high enough odds for me. What’s life without a little bit of mystery?