His text read like the whelp of a pup, warm and needy, satisfying my maternal itch.

The tech of our first plays had been pushed forward a week, and my son’s request for me to travel to their mountain town to watch my granddaughters, 6 and 2 ½ for three days was irresistible. Math might not be his strong suit, though you’d never know it now, as he recruits teams of hockey players year after year and rattles off the impressive numbers. But how did three-days’ visit time work out counting from “can you come Wednesday and leave on Sunday?”

Nevertheless, I felt needed, and nothing makes a Capricorn happier than to be needed.

In a period of self-reflection and planning for New Year’s transformations, I imagined that time in the idyllic mountains would be just what both the doctor and my coach might have ordered.

“Oh, and we’ve all just gotten over COVID.”

😳😱🤨 As only a project manager can, I imagined returning from my four-days away to suddenly be quarantined before the tech of the first shows of the spring semester. The COVID Compliance Officer who needed to stand in front of the cast and crew and tell them how we would proceed having to do it from someone’s tiny laptop screen in the room. No Bueno.

I counted backward to Chris’ Day 0, Tuesday a week before, when he was feeling symptoms and shortly after we had met in Anaheim on the previous Saturday. I’d driven down to attend a game and spent fifteen minutes with him at the rink after the game. Somehow, I’d felt the impetus to make his favorite cookies the night before, before I even knew he was coming to Southern California. Funny that. The maternal instinct still going strong.

We’d visited that Saturday, rink side, the noise of the Zamboni trundling around the ice, as his team got out of their uniforms. Ten years of youth hockey parenting made me almost nostalgic for the locker room tape ball fights, the ridiculously nauseating odor of sweaty hockey gloves. Shouting like a crazy person from the stands. The long rides home in the car, that sacred space that allowed us to talk about things we might not have been able to do at home. The odiferous lump of a hockey bag right inside the door of the house. The sodden wool of the hockey socks I’d extract with my right thumb and forefinger, pinky outstretched from the hockey bag, tossing them directly into the washing machine. Hockey Mom turned Hockey Coach’s Mom – a much more static experience when you don’t know the boys’ names or technical hockey skills. When you don’t have the sensate experiences above.

At any rate, I’d watched as the boys filed sullenly from the locker room, their heads glistening with sweat, their faces in a communal rictus of disappointment from the loss after a five minute OT and shoot out.

I gave my son a huge embrace, passed off the cookie tin, then drove home. Monday, when he returned to Tahoe, with six COVID-positive players, I thought for sure my goose was cooked. But no, the next PCR test proved negative. He, however, was not so lucky and a week later, I was heading up to Tahoe for Nana duties.

After 5 years of trips to Tahoe, I’ve grown fond of the little regional airport, its long hallways filled with dioramas of stuffed mountain goats, shiny terrazzo floors with silver salmons leading you upstream to the baggage carousel, the Wheel of Fortune machines beckoning from the center of the walkway, the eternally closed Peet’s coffee shop. The South Tahoe Airport shuttle left about 45-minutes after I arrived, and on the way to Tahoe, I listened to the university’s weekly COVID-19 briefing, taking notes on my laptop and looking out the big front windows of the bus as we began the climb to the lake.

The ten to fifteen feet of snow they’d accumulated at Christmas resembled dirty Styrofoam hillocks. And yet, the sky was a deep cerulean blue, wafting over the still white hills.

My son’s wife’s family had had a terrible and untimely loss of one of her cousins, so she had gone to New York for the funeral, leaving Chris to figure out how to also leave for another tournament and take care of their two daughters, both home from school and daycare with COVID.  Nana to the rescue! When I got into the truck at the Hard Rock Cafe, the girls were shy, looking a little shellshocked. The older one, the leader, proudly said,  “We just came from the hotel. Well we didn’t have a room, we just played games there.”

I snapped my head left to look at my son, who was driving, and said, “You took your two COVID-positive children to a casino?” To which he rolled his head back and laughed. “No, Mom, just the arcade.”  😳 I kept my mask on.

When we got back to the house, we did a quick antigen COVID test of my oldest granddaughter, which revealed her to still be positive.

“There goes Thursday,” I thought. Pizza arrived, miraculously for dinner, mask came off to eat, then baths, books, and bed, the trilogy any exhausted mother, father, or grandmother looks forward to. Chris retreated to his younger daughter’s room to read her to sleep, I to that of the six-year-old. I’d brought some extraordinary books with me, a legacy from my friend’s apartment in New York. Pop up books celebrating The Wizard of Oz, and Little Red Riding Hood. The two girls were fascinated with them, and each wanted to open the numerous moving parts. After struggling to read the long Wizard of Oz book through my mask, I succumbed, removing it to finish the story.

The next morning, we drove Chris to the Hockey dorms, dropping him off, then went back to the house to begin our 3 day stint together. Parenting little kids, especially those who are stuck in isolation, is probably the hardest job I’ve had to do in a long time. This coming from a production manager of a college theatre program operating during a pandemic.

The university challenges fail to measure up to the rigorous clutch of a six year old with control of the TV remote. Nana was trying to stay current with her emails and attending sporadic toddler-interrupted zoom meetings. Sibling rivalry between children of those ages is strong and Nana was constantly reminding Agent 6 that Agent 2.5  was really impressed with her abilities as a big sister. This technique was effective about 2.2% of the time I was there.

This is a still from the video I shared with my colleagues during one such zoom meeting.

Not sure what the hypothesis was here.

Agent 6 was doing a science experiment with red food coloring in water, then pouring it through the hole in a bar stool to see if she could get it in the cup on the floor…. Nana knew all along it was not going to go well.

When things got too tiring for Nana, I will confess utilized the digital baby sitting services of The Disney Channel. Agent 2.5 was downstairs watching Bluey, and Agent 6 was watching upstairs. Periodically, well precisely every 24 minutes, I’d hear the predictable footfalls of Agent 2.5 climbing the stairs to tell me “Nana, tv is broken,” which meant only that the OK button had to be pressed to start the next episode. It worked for a day or so for me to enlist Agent 6 to go press that button, until Agent 6 realized she didn’t want to any more. Let’s just say that there was a lot about pressing buttons over the four days, both literal and metaphorical.

There were some real and present dangers. The couch threatened to swallow all inhabitants of the house at one time or another over those four days. It almost succeeded one time but Nana came to the rescue when called from the kitchen.

Other fun events included playing barbies, playing legos, making a cake for Mom’s birthday; she was supposed to return on her birthday, so we made a chocolate cake with chocolate frosting and raspberries.

We tested Friday morning: still positive (Agent 6) and Nana surreptitiously tested Saturday night (negative), allowing me to return to LA on the flight Sunday. Monday’s campus test elicited a negative result as well. I have no idea how I escaped getting it. The moment I knew I would get it happened while wiping Agent 2.5’s little nose after I served dinner too early, causing her to melt down completely, and while “ugly” crying, push her plate onto the floor, dropping the Hello Fresh chicken sandwich I’d made for her at the dog’s feet. Cupid was delighted, but needless to say, Nana was a bit miffed. Can I just note that even “ugly” crying at that age is adorable?

But all the positive intelligence PQ reps in the world didn’t help me a whole lot in moments like that. I have profound respect for working parents of small children. It was a humbling experience indeed.

Other highlights involved actually going outside to service the dog’s bio break needs. The two of them took off in their little Elsa Frozen Car, Nana loping behind them, believing for a minute that there were no brakes. At least I got some exercise.

The Olympics came a little early to Tahoe and the trundle bed trampoline event was a hotly contested event that went on for two days. Nana/judge was encouraged to discard the long standing scale of 1-10 for a metric that went to 13. It was difficult to compare competitors especially when Agent 6 demanded that Agent 2.5 receive an 8 rather than the 6.5 her performance merited. Adding Kynex flowers to Agent 6’s mouth (aside from my imagined horrors of choking) quickly pushed her scores first to 11.5, then to 12. The competition ended with a pillow fight, Nana wearing the crown.

Being in the woods for four days made me miss my job. A lot. And now, you are probably thinking a lot less well of this Nana for having said that. But the old adage, “absence makes the heart grow fonder” is pretty spot on.

I have new found respect for my son and his wife, and understand how tiring what this phase of their young lives can be. I was glad I was able to jump in and spell them for a little while and also be reminded of the simple pleasures of bedtime, baths and books and about forty six episodes of Bluey.

16 thoughts

  1. Hi Els, I so loved this. The hockey talk brought back so man memories of Shaun playing hockey at 8-11 or 12 years old, and me being the hockey mom. I so remember the smells and laundry and hockey bags. Thank you for the memories. Shaun periodically talks about it and how he will never be able to play again. Breaks my heart over and over. But we trudge on, one minute at a time.
    Thank you again. Stay safe. XO

  2. The ride on the emotional and physical rollercoaster is SO fully described that, yes, it’s almost like we’re there.
    Your endurance in both departments is phenomenal. And your ability to translate this experience (these experiences, actually) is well nigh breathtaking.
    Welcome home, Els. How lucky that your son, your AGENTs and your students and faculty have you in their lives.

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