As I rocked my grandson in my arms in the darkened room before settling him into his crib for the night, I whispered, “You had so many adventures today!” Paul snuggled against my chest, waiting... My son and his wife started this routine when Paul was an infant; after putting on his pajamas and reading a few cozy stories, they turn down the lights, and in soft voices, review his day.
“You saw the men fixing the sidewalk this morning, remember…?”
Dave had been taking a shower, and Paul and I had gone outside to retrieve the sponge Red Sox baseball bat Paul tossed over the balcony. The bat was in the neighbors’ yard, under a small fir tree. “Do you see the bat? Can you get it?”
I opened the gate to the fence, he fetched the bat, and raised it proudly for me to see.
Suddenly, the pounding of a jackhammer shattered the morning quiet. “Wow! What’s that? Let’s go check it out!” I said.
“Check it out!” replied Paul as we walked toward a sound from which most people would flee.
Paul is 22 months old and fast on his feet, so I have terrifying mental images of him smacking his head on the sidewalk or darting into the road. So, “Take my finger, sweetie,” I said. “Good boy. Thank you,” and we headed toward the noise.
While one might think curiosity about that thundering sound would override all else, there was much to inspect within the block and a half we covered.
Paul stopped, pointed, and squatted on his haunches. “Those are ants!” I said.
“Ants!” said Paul, his voice gentle and intrigued.
“See how busy they are? They’re helping their friends take food to their home. See the hole? That’s their home.”
“That’s their home,” he said… or something close.
With his eyes, Paul followed the scurrying ants while shamelessly I indoctrinated him with the value of even the smallest lives, the importance of helping, the satisfaction of good work.
Nearby, drifts of dried maple seeds had collected in the dirt at the base of a small sapling. Yesterday, Dave demonstrated the fun of these “helicopters,” so Paul scooped up two handfuls and tossed them in the air. “Watah-fall!” he cried as they spun and tumbled.
“Wheeeeee!” I whooped, as I tossed high another handful.
“Wheeee!” Paul joined in, as seeds rained down around us.
Oh, being with our boy reminds me of the joys and wonder of this world. The fascinating industry of ants. The exhilaration of maple seeds swirling as they fall. The allure of a jackhammer ratcheting against concrete. Hm. Yes. That too.
Finger in small fist, we resumed our walk toward the deafening report. “Big truck!” Paul said with glee.
He was right! A dump truck and a backhoe were waiting to haul away broken chunks of sidewalk. “Look! See that man? He has a pickaxe. Can you say ‘pickaxe’? (Of course, he could!) He’s breaking off pieces and putting them into the shovel. Look at that big shovel on the backhoe!”
“Shovel on the backhoe!” repeated Paul, or something close.
We sat on the stairs of a house across the street from the action and watched as I rattled off explanations and questions. “What color is the dump truck? That man’s shirt? The backhoe?”
I’d mistakenly told Paul that vehicle was a steam shovel, but not wishing to misinform my grandson, I asked one of the men and he corrected me; the good men of public works were tickled to have such curious, enthusiastic spectators. Periodically they waved or gestured toward what they were doing. In parting, I yelled over the clamor of the engine to tell them they might have a young apprentice. They called back, “Nah! This work’s too hard. Tell him to stay in school!”
Later that day, after lunch and Paul’s nap, Dave, Paul’s “Tato,” joined us for a trip to the grocery store. As if the Universe had not been generous enough in providing this morning’s backhoe and dump truck, hook and ladder engine #9 was parked in the back of the lot. “Look Paul! What do you see?” We whooped.
Pointing with a chubby, index finger, Paul hooted, “Big fire truck!” Not just close this time, but clear as day.
Two firefighters manned the truck, both named Mike. “Fist bump?” Mike #1 asked Paul. Oh yeah. Tiny fist met meaty fists as Mikes #1 and #2 greeted our boy. “Want to sit in the truck?” said Mike #1 as he jumped down from his post.
“Whoa! Look at you,” Dave and I crowed as Paul perched on the seat… too close to the edge I thought. So I hovered, hands raised in case he lurched forward, while the two Mikes smiled their encouragement.
But there was shopping yet to be done, so Dave and I gushed our thanks, and we all waved bye-bye. So many dear, burly men in Paul’s wake today, grinning at our little one and waving bye-bye!
For young parents, grocery shopping is one list among many, exhausting if it follows a day at work, an annoyance on the weekend when it takes up free time. For us, Paul’s Tato and his LeaLea, it was anything Paul wanted it to be, as long as we wound up with the makings for dinner.
Usually, I don’t take time to notice, much less marvel at the shapes and colors tucked in the shelves of Stop and Shop. But with Paul, I saw the beauty in mounds of shiny apples, ponderous pumpkins, and dimpled oranges. We pointed, and Paul named them, as shoppers around us smiled and said, “Smart boy!”
We’d decided on tilapia for dinner, and wheeled over to the seafood counter, totally forgetting the surprise that waited there. OMG! Lobsters! Could this day get any better?
Dave lifted Paul out of the cart so he could study closely those crusty creatures, their waving antennae, and spidery legs. Paul noted the big ones and watched as some little ones took their naps. I threw in a comment about playing nicely with friends as a bully of a lobster clambered over those napping babies.
Having never done this as parents – we were too busy! We had things to do! – we set Paul free and followed him as he dashed down the aisles, weaving around displays and indulgent, smiling shoppers, stopping dead periodically when something caught his eye. In the pet department, an elderly woman quizzed Paul on animal names, then looked at me and said, “Treasure these times! It goes so fast…”
As if I don’t know! We last saw Paul a month ago, and already he is taller and slimmer. Already he has dropped some endearing words and gestures as his pronunciation improves and he mimics more accurately. Already, he is more of a person, surer of what he wants… and what he doesn’t. As I did with Tucker and Casey, I try to freeze our time with this little boy, much as I know it can’t be done.
In the darkened nursery that night, with Paul snoozy in his striped pajamas, snuggled close to my chest, I whispered, “and you sat in a fire truck. Do you remember the two Mikes? And you went to the grocery store, and watched the lobsters play with their friends.”