Friday, October 17, 2008

Grandma Defeats her AR

Enough pictures of the cat, already. This is my grandson, Otto. undated photo. I'd say it's last year, when he was 7 1/2. He still looks like this, but not. His hair is a couple of inches longer now, stylishly disheveled, and his face is--what is it happens to our faces? more formed, perhaps. More individual.

I came close to missing the moment today. When Cassie called Wednesday night to tell me that today would be Grandparents' Day at Otto's school, my Automatic Reactivity (AR) kicked in. I have no patent on the AR; actually, I suspect everyone has one. It is that tightly woven collection of preferences; the way I like things to go.

I like things to go on schedule and on time. And I already had Friday organized. I had moved my usual Friday afternoon coffee with a friend to morning, so I could be home when Tom gets back from retreat. Then too, I am working hard now to stay rested and not overdo, so I don't get sick. I thought about having to get up with an alarm, which I hate, driving an hour each way on freeways by myself. Changing my meeting with my friend again. Bad weather was moving in, and my fibromyalgia was flaring up.

But somehow I didn't give her a firm no. And I found myself trying to imagine myself back in third grade. How I would have felt if I'd had grandparents who cared enough about me to come to my school. I told Cassie yes.

Friday I woke before the alarm, then, wow! I was on the road at 8:00 a.m., coffee in commuter mug, deftly switching lanes, making it through downtown rush hour and heading east.

Route 70 turns into six spacious lanes about the time you notice the landscape has changed from flat to rolling. Low clouds, an irregular band of bright light above the horizon, mixed forest on both sides of the road. Mowed cornfields. Black angus cattle like paper silhouettes.

Soon I was at Hopewell Elementary, jostling into a parking space on the grass, then directed through brightly-painted hallways into the tech lab, where I sat with grandparents decades younger and older than me in a surround of---computers!---ready to be escorted into Mrs. Youman's third grade. I had worn my pretty flowered sweatshirt, and felt more appropriate than usual.

I drove back with my colored-paper blue ribbon taped to the dash, and the kind of memories you file to play over during that long, comfortable deathbed scene. Otto's face when I came in. The teacher asked him to read his essay about his grandparents first. He did. I listened to how he sees us. I have written a book, he said, and used to teach college. We play games with him. Our house is pleasant.

Then Otto and I and another boy worked on, believe it, a handout of a Venn diagram. Two circles that overlap. On the left side he wrote things that he thought were different about his school. On the right, things I said were different when I was in third grade. (We had to sit totally still, I said. We never got to talk in class. He could see how awful that had been.) In the middle, where the circles overlapped, he wrote things we agreed are the same. An alphabet posted above the dry-erase boards. Windows. Rules. (One unwritten rule, I learned, is still in force: you can look out the windows if they're not watching.)

I sat on a tiny chair beside him, watching him cooperate with the other boy to tell what we had written, aware all over again of how much it means to feel loved. I don't know that I have changed a bit in that regard since third grade.

To end it, the children lined up to sing a song in praise of grandparents, and then we all filed down to the gym/cafeteria where we had homemade cookies (limit, 2) and our choice of red, white, or blue (raspberry) punch. Women came up to me and introduced themselves; Cassie's neighbor; a neighbor of Otto's other grandmother. Over near the stage, a small toddler with a pacifier in place toyed with a small computer; a notebook, I suppose. "That's different," Otto said knowledgeably.

Sitting with Otto, I ransacked my purse until I found the three Star Trek stickers I had picked up for him yesterday---I guess this is why grandmothers have to carry big purses. He stuck them deftly in a pocket, to look at later. I asked if he still liked to go to the zoo. "Yes!"

I asked him what he wants to see there. "Everything," he said.

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