Monday, March 18, 2024

From the ARCHIVES: 2004 (before FaceTime)

At last I have what I’ve been coveting—a long distance relationship. My love, an almost three-year-old named Katie, lives in Minneapolis, and I am 1,700 miles away. Today on the telephone she asked, “Grandma, when are you coming over to my house.”  And I, hard-pressed in March to put my anticipated June visit into a timeframe she could understand, felt my heart leap with gladness. While I don’t wish even a smidgen of sadness in her life, I was thrilled to know she was pining for me. Oh, the joy of reciprocated love!

I have had just a handful of visits with Katie, many of them short. I compensate, as most grandparents do, by surrounding myself with pictures, so she prances across my computer screen at home, and grins from my tack-board at work. From the comments my cubicle-visitors make, her dimpled, contagious smile is a good antidote to taking our corporate business too seriously.

Challenged to build a relationship over the miles, I’ve done all the standard “grandma things.” I even made her a picture-book for her first birthday depicting our daily lives in Seattle. (My favorite is the posed shot of her grandpa taking out the garbage.)  But how does a grandmother bond with her grandchild when the grandma’s squeezy hugs and cushiony lap are so far away?

When Katie was just two, we had our shortest visit ever—just hours long—on the occasion of her baby sister’s christening. We spent much of our visit chasing each other in the reception area of the luncheon place. First Katie tried to catch me as I pretended to run as fast as my big, thick-wasted grandma-body could. Then I pretended to try catching her while she ran as fast as her little, diapered, toddler-body could. I don’t know who was more tired when we were done, but we both had a wonderful time.

A week later when her father took her out to a neighborhood restaurant for breakfast, an older woman with short gray hair similar to mine walked past their table. “Grandma, come back here!” she called out, and when the woman didn’t respond she called out again with urgency. Her father tried to explain that the woman wasn’t Grandma, but Katie wasn’t convinced. I thought my heart would break when I heard that, but oddly, within the same week a small boy in a supermarket cart called out to me, “Grammy,” as I passed him. His mother embarrassedly shushed him. “Does his grandma look a little bit like me?” I asked.  His mother nodded. I surmised that he probably didn’t see his grandma very often, either.

Only recently has Katie wanted to come to the phone when I call her parents. We have brief but deeply satisfying conversations in which we continue a game we’ve developed over several visits. I put on my silly voice and say “Egg, egg, egg,” just like the finger-puppet bunny says when it’s on my finger, and she laughs. It’s as cause-and-effect predictable as the moon and the tide. Grandma says “Egg, egg, egg,” and Katie laughs. I have to take what’s mine.

During my January visit this year I noticed how much she enjoyed the occasional cookie that her parents allow her, so I shipped homemade Valentine’s cookies to Minneapolis. Because I was worried that the postal trip would turn heart-shapes into crumb-shapes, I folded each cookie in its own waxed-paper wrap. A few days after the cookies were all eaten, Katie opened a kitchen drawer, took out the roll of waxed paper and laid it on the kitchen table. When her parents asked her what she was doing, she told them she put it there “because Grandma needs waxed paper.“

That anecdote probably makes me the only person in Seattle who gets teary-eyed at the sight of a roll of waxed paper. But we have made such progress! Tonight, after a round of “Egg, egg, egg,” on the telephone, when Katie asked me when I was coming to her house, I realized we’d reached a new level of our relationship.  Dear little girl, I’ll be there as soon as I can, and I can hardly wait.

Copyright © 2024 Sara J. Glerum

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