There’s a fair amount of water in the Pacific Northwest. I spent my summer week of vacation with my son and their family of two under the age of 6 in the beautiful Skagit Valley in Washington State where his wife, Whitney grew up. We spent the week next to Puget Sound, dipping our toes into a variety of rivers and rivulets, channels, and canals, each one with different impressive properties. It was a spectacular week. I’m surer than ever that my future needs to include some sort of blue space, and this week provided me with an impressive array of options to meet that need. While observing the water spaces, I donned my not-so-invisible cloak and observed the mercurial behaviors of my granddaughters. There’s a very specific way that little kids engage with each other and with the adults in their sphere. After close scientific observation, I estimate there are a limit of about ten five-minute windows of bliss throughout each day. I witnessed several this week.
The five minutes after receiving their strawberry smoothies at the coffee drive by shack, small cups capped with whipped cream and a black straw. “Why are they so small?” turned into rapture as they licked away the whipped cream spilling out of the top. Neither one finished their drink but just getting them and the muffin tops made them ecstatic if only for a moment before the little scientist began using her straw as a pipette, then flung it against the car door, measuring it’s centrifugal force by the pattern of sprays. “NO!” said Nana, putting the kibosh on all things fun. The immediate aftermath of this bliss was the little one’s throwing her arms up in the air with abandon, grinning from ear to ear, her tiny Band-Aids hanging by gooey threads from the inside of her elbows.
Turning the rocks over on the beach at Grampa Dan’s beach house and finding clusters of tiny crabs as they scurried away, happy squeals emerging from their little hunched human forms, as they hopped from rock to rock on the edge of the receding or returning tide. In fairness, this game can go on quite a bit longer than five minutes before hunger or weariness intervenes.
Coloring in the nature coloring books, about a ten-minute activity, until some tiny internecine battle flairs up over who gets the pink marker.
Watching a group of small children watching fireworks. I was terrified that some tiny digit was going to get blown off, but the kids over five never lost their interest in the colorful, noxious, loud explosions. They must have run a mini marathon to and away from the platform where the grownups lit the small firecrackers.
Gathering up candy at the Fourth of July Parade as old cars with old people paraded down the main street of La Conner, Washington. Then displaying the candy after sorting it…
Negotiating with Dad and Nana to get ice cream after eating two popsicles at home before the parade. Did she know that Nana was really negotiating how to fit the ice cream into her calorie count for July 4th? We shared the cookies and cream in a cup.
I remember the moment that I realized that kids came out uniquely individual and that no amount of nurturing or nature made children in the same family like each other. This holds true for my son’s family.
The oldest, S, is a burgeoning hockey player, athletic, interested in the human dynamics of all that is going on around her, overly sensitive at times, and looking for a fight to win with a consistency that will undoubtedly pay off on the ice in competition. She’s bright, particularly adept at remembering the smug idiocies of her elders and playing them back just when her elders least want to hear them. After watching her lose it at the arcade, becoming a feral knee-gnawing monster, I shared with her in the car how it might be possible to calm herself down by rubbing her fingers together and taking deep breaths until the rage passed. She reminded me of this later that night when she was in the bathtub, soaking off the day’s muddy remnants after she began flinging water over the side of the tub and I spoke sharply to her about stopping that. “Maybe you should rub your fingers together, Nana,” she cooed, looking bemusedly up at me as I fumed about how being a Smart Alec was not attractive. She can be volcanic at times, and is quite the thespian. She can turn on very credible tears as if from an emotional faucet, just as she can be dissuaded from those into giggles, but you must catch them just at the right moment, or you’ll pay for your poor timing for a long time. I watched my son turn that tide expertly as we exited the movie theatre.
The younger, Miss B, small for her age (she looks two rather than three), is increasingly verbal and sensitive to loud noises, odors, and harsh substances on her skin like soap. Her features are delicate, and she’s a natural clown, batting her doe-like eyes up at you right before flinging her pipette of strawberry slime at the door handle. She knows what she needs at any given moment. “I have to pee and poop” is an example of the specificity with which she speaks, her squeaky little voice bringing all the adults to laughter around her. “It’s not funny!” as we turn our faces away to hide our amusement. I remembered after watching her on the Fourth of July that I had also been that sensitive child who hated the loud sounds and smells associated with the Fourth of July. And frequently had to pee and poop at inopportune moments.
We all have our limitations. Throughout the week, I ran up against harsh realizations about what I could and could not do as an over 60-year-old. Yesterday, we journeyed north to Edison, Washington, population 168, one of whom is one of Whitney’s good friends from high school. All week, beginning with a fantastic Fourth of July celebration, there were fun gatherings with many of these strong young women and their distinctive children.
Friday, we went to play in the lazy slough that runs through Edison, ostensibly to look for frogs. In the meantime, we found caterpillars and spots to pee (the bathrooms were closed. Late in the afternoon after a barbecue lunch, the children assembled, close to 9 of them, went swimming in the warm water. I stayed up in the park, watching the picnic site (old LA granny habits die hard). Sitting in a lawn chair, watched the lazy clouds float overhead. Still expert at that. Road runner, Rhino, blancmange… Whitney appeared and invited me to come back down to the river rather than sitting to guard trash at the table. At the slough’s edge, after I’d just finished grousing about having to squat in the bushes to pee (which, by the way, is a lot harder at 60 than it was at 25), Whitney said, “then you won’t be very happy when I tell you have to take off your socks and shoes to get out to where the kids are playing” (in the black mud). I looked across the two minor channels of water, then plopped down on the bank of the river, fist sized smoothly polished river rocks supporting my lowering body (what is that creaking sound?), removed my shoes and socks and tried to stand back up to begin the crossing. My city-soft feet clutched the sides of the rocks like the eagle’s talons we had observed through the telescope earlier in the week, and I quickly lowered myself down to the flat bank again. “That’s not going to happen,” I said wryly, putting my shoes back on my feet.
“But your shoes will get wet,” said Whitney.
“Yes, better my shoes than all of me when I fall face first into the river.” I walked over to the center island with no problem in my shoes. Sloshy sneakers was worth it.
I had revelations like that all week – at the Larrabee State Park, as the children and young adults scampered over the boulders, I found my physical limits quickly and waited patiently for the others to return. When did I become so decrepit? Or fearful of falling?
Larrabee Park, with another rocky beach, and tidal pools to explore. As passing kids and dogs scampered over the rocks, I came to grips with my lack of grip.
Hiking down to the beach from Grandpa Dan’s house was a great activity on Wednesday afternoon around 4pm. The tide was out and Martha’s Beach was the perfect Nana-appropriate activity for hunting for crabs, and finding forts and observing wildflowers on the way there and back.
There were a lot of highlights to the week:
- Excellent dinners at the table overlooking the cove
- Enjoying the girls’ first movie at the AMC theatre complete with popcorn and arcade games
- Losing the dog (temporarily) and listening to the six-year-old process that loss – “I don’t know if I should be upset? Followed quickly with “should we put up signs?”
- Spending the morning with the bald eagle out on the tree on the point.
- Making memories with my tiny very individual granddaughters
All in all, it was a fantastic week of water and discovered blisses.
Now I’m hanging out in Sea-Tac airport (their flight was at 11:30, mine is at 6:50PM). Feeling a little like Tom Hanks in The Terminal.