Two years after I skidded haplessly into the ranks of grandparents with the arrival of our mysterious man-child, the new generation gained yet another member.

And this one is a girl.

Aha! I nod to me, feigning confidence.  Surely I’ll have the occasional, random notion what do to with this one.  After all, I parented a small female back in the distant mists of of the dark ages.  How different can this one be?

Sure enough, familiar signs manifest themselves pretty quickly.  A miniature of her mother at that age, she reaches for purses and necklaces and makeup before she can walk unaided, distinctly prefers pink, and is mesmerized by sequins, shine, and frills.

In other words, she is the girliest of girls, straight out of the starting gate.

And yet, surprises unfold.  The biggest?  She’s Rambo in a Tutu.  An astonishing combination of confidence, determination, and will rockets her forward through her toddler days.  She will not be contained, quieted, or ignored, and rarely slowed.  Pretty much ever.

No one will ever have to encourage this child to Lean In.

I observe this dynamic and can’t decide whether to laugh or quake in fearful anticipation of looming disaster.  Maybe I’m just a tad envious of this boldness, this unwavering compulsion to damn the torpedoes.

Where does THAT come from?  And how can I get some?

Chasing a ball on my lawn one recent evening, she shoves a small, fat foot into a hole and swan-dives into the grass, pearl-skinned nose in the dirt.  I stifle a cry and lurch forward to the rescue, but before I can console, she springs up, concludes, “I’m all right!” with the finality of a judge slamming down the gavel, and bounds off before I can survey for blood.

A few days later, her older brother is late-evening cranky, and I’m thinking a fresh-air tonic is the ticket.  Get your shoes, I instruct him.  Let’s go for a walk. This outing is not intended as a threesome, as she is already in pajamas.  But before her pouting sibling can muster a response, she has located her own shoe (only one, of course) and is waving it in front of me, jumping up and down like a college football coach trying to call time out with 20 seconds left in overtime.  There can be only one answer:  Of course you can come, too, of course you can.  We wouldn’t dream of going without you.

On a recent visit to the neighborhood pool, she is a bit tentative about the water at first, but she finds her voice and raises it ferociously against the forces of injustice.  A small cadre of older boys (about age seven, I judge, and she is a Mighty Two) has taken possession of her Minnie Mouse kickboard, slapping it with their swim noodles and enjoying the resulting thwacks and radiating sprays. This indecency cannot be borne.

“YOU BETTER STOP THAT!” she bellows, splitting eardrums of passers-by at least a good block away.  “YOU SHOULDN’T DO THAT!  THAT’S NOT NIIIICCE!”  I glide over sociably, amicably, retrieving Minnie while the boys look around for the source of this racket.  Catching sight of this miniature blonde Officer of the Law, they sneer cheerfully and move on to other prey.  “I SAID, IT’S NOT NICE! ” she shifts into Verse 2, refusing to be ignored, “DON’T DO THAT ANYMORE!” It’s OK, I placate, I got Minnie, it’s fine, they stopped.  Distraction is the only effective strategy, so we glide away in an aquatic piggyback ride.

Some strange twist of cultural expectations may compel me to intervene, but at heart, I’m really digging her approach. What woman doesn’t occasionally want the abandon to bellow at some guy who done her wrong?  Who doesn’t crave the confidence to charge forward in the face of, well, anything?  Who wouldn’t cherish the ability to articulate the wishes dearest and closest to the heart, with perfect clarity?

The other day she traversed my living room to locate me working in the kitchen.  Evie, she called, while I’m stacking dishes.  Yes, precious? I answer, but don’t turn around.  Evie, she repeats, with a slight upward twist of the volume knob.  This time, I turn slightly but proceed with my task.Yes, darling girl?  (I love to lavish vintage endearments on them; no one else will tolerate that but the dog.)  Evie! she insists, and finally I relent, stopping to hoist her to eye level, woman to woman.

Evie, she softens the delivery now, with her quarry in direct sight.  I wait for it.

Evie, this whispered with blue eyes locked on mine, serious, deliberate, precise, unmistakable.

Evie, I want a peach.

 

 

If I said it once, I said it a hundred times, after we learned my grandson was on the way. I don’t know the first useful thing about little boys.

Sure, I have a little brother. I still call him that, though he is a handsome six-feet-plus and more than a half-century in birthdays logged. He was an adorable child, that much I remember, but six years younger, so his toddler inclinations didn’t linger in mind through the mists of time.

And I raised a girl, a glorious, gorgeous, heart-stopping girly-girl, of the pink-sequins-dress-up-and-doll-loving sort, now the maternal unit of my pint-sized male traveling companion.

So, let’s get this on the table up front, and you may consider it comprehensive: When it comes to this man-child, I never have a clue what I am doing. But four years into this romp, close observation indicates that the daily pattern has a few common elements. The sequence seems to run something like this:
1. Meal
2. Perpetual motion
3. Snack
4. Additional perpetual motion
5. Pre-meal snack
6. Alternative perpetual motion
7. Pre-snack meal
8. Negotiation of post-meal snack
9. Frenzied, heightened motion
10. Post-meal snack and articulation of requests for next meal
11. Sleep
12. Repeat

So on our first road trip together, a journey of an entire hour that both parties survived with minimal angst and only a few bits of food stuck to our clothes in random places (see list above, and imagine in-car variation), we arrived at the Apple Festival between what I gauged to be List Items 5 and 6.

 

It was the happiest timing imaginable. At the Apple Festival—where a professional marketer would say they deliver to their target audience with admirable, laser focus—Perpetual Motion could be expended until the small one went face down from sheer exhaustion. There were slides of varying sizes, an obstacle course, a sandbox, a hay-bale maze (with slide), and he bounded from one to another, and back again, and again. All I had to do was jog behind and stay close enough to try and catch a few Kodak moments.

And then it was time to eat (see items 7 and 8, above). There was a brief pretense of trying a meat sandwich, but we did not linger long on this ruse, because there was an Apple Slushie, which helped wash down a fried apple pie. Then we plunged across the finish line with a boost to the nutritional balance in the form of a caramel apple the size of a softball. It crosses my mind briefly that his mother is going to kill me, but I can’t dwell on such thoughts, or my own apple pie will go cold, or get carried off by the handsome farm dog, loitering optimistically nearby.

 

Re-energized by this Apple Feast, he opts for a few more rounds on the hay bales and slides, til finally he is spent, the galloping slowed to a walk, the fair cheeks flushed, the hair soaked. It’s probably time to go, I venture, and when he does not resist, I know we have given our utmost.

I buckle him into his seat, where he clutches his pumpkin souvenir, with a smaller one for his younger sister. Was that fun? I ask, as I wipe a dusty streak of sweat from his hairline. “Yeah,” he manages, leaning his head back, relaxing, at last, and still. I push for details as I back out of the parking space and point the car homeward. What was your favorite?

But he has already moved on to list item 11, and there is no more to be said for now.

It is our first road trip together, just the two of us, this fellow and I, and I consider that fact briefly as we climb into our seats.  Is there something more I should have done to prepare, I wonder–but, too late now.  We are traveling in my quirky little car, a privilege he has been requesting for some time, so he is upbeat as we settle in for departure.

“Found my cupholder!” he declares as he wedges his moist, cool, open can down into it, no spill, amazingly, in sight.  He enjoys the view for a block or two, then leans in to peruse the dashboard.  “We need gas,” he observes, repeating for emphasis, “you know that, right?  We need gas?”

I think we can get there fine, I assure him cheerfully, so we’ll stop on the way back.

This resolved, he quickly moves on.  “Is there any music in this car?” he inquires, and I freeze briefly again, thinking that at this stage in our relationship I should know his musical tastes but, alas, do not. What kind of music do you like?

“Loud,” and this is firm, clear, delivered without pause.  “I like loud music.”  Something upbeat, I’m thinking, so I punch the selector on a playlist of classic R&B and wrench the volume knob to the upward range.  “No,” he shakes his head sorrowfully, “that’s not loud.  I want LOUD music,” amplifying his own vocals for emphasis.

I can feel myself beginning to tense up, unable to discern what is desired, wondering why male travel preferences must be both universal and unattainable for their co-piloting females.  And this male is four years old, delivering his personal travelogue requests from the securely buckled environs of his toddler booster in the backseat. I am–not four, but we are connected by generations and genetics that should enable me, his G-ma, to divine his every desire and thought.

If only.

Before we can resolve the music dilemma, he slams home the Travel Trifecta (cupholder, music, and…). “I’m hungry.  Really, really, hungry.”  At last!  A contingency for which I am prepared.  I hand back a banana, which vanishes with astonishing speed, then a small bag of tiny peanut butter crackers.  These restore the spiritual equilibrium for the time being, and he turns his attention to our destination.  “I’ve never been to an apple festival before,” he observes seriously. “What do they do there?”

The dashboard clock declares that seven minutes of the one-hour drive have elapsed.  Surely he’ll nap for a bit before long, I reassure myself, as I deliver the old sales pitch on the adventure that is forthcoming.

Well, there are lots of apples, all different kinds, and some big slides to play on, and fried apple pies, and some goats you can feed…

But before I can finish my Rockwellian portrait of the afternoon ahead, comes the Traditional, the Inevitable, the Universal:

“Are we there yet?”