The sound of his feet tromping up the stairs, down the hallway reached me before his voice, calling out, “Gran where are you?” Those feet that no longer fit into little boy sizes, are reaching into adult numbers with each new purchase of shoes. I remember those baby feet, how I kissed his soles and sniffed the very infancy that rose up, never musty never dirty. His feet are large now, often filty and filled with bits of sock and smelling of the day’s sweat and gym class and time spent at recess. School is out though now so shoes are only for going to the store or church so toes are most often covered in mud and bits of grass and always something under his nails. Those feet were carrying him upstairs to find me as I was hidden away on my balcony for just a few moments to read the chapter in the latest book I had downloaded.
He was searching me out to ask if he could have a cup of shaved ice, the equivalent of any other child asking for ice cream. His grandfather sidestepped the decision, unable to give a firm no to those blue eyes and that smile. Those eyes are wicked enticing, he moves his eyebrows just like his father, it is a terrible wonderful combination when unleashed on those who don’t have a shield in place. Already the girls in the neighborhood gather and swarm and jockey for his attention. I want to warn them, I know what a boy with that kind of charism can do to a girl. I watched them ride their bikes back and forth in front of our house, looking craning trying to get him to come play or issue an invitation to join him but he ignored them, preferring to sit on the trampoline with me and roll balls of play doh in a game where points are scored in a system rigged against me.
I said yes to the shaved ice as we made a deal about dinner, I was somewhat drunk on the book I was reading and the momentary peace I had experienced and the birds and those eyes and that smile. Lost in the moment of just being gran and not worrying about vegetables and protein, I said yes. Anticipating that he would take those large feet and his prize back down the stairs and out the door to rejoin his grandfather in victory, it was an easy deal to make. I didn’t want to get up yet to make more food and clean the kitchen again and disturb the Saturday evening. He didn’t scamper though, he climbed onto my lap, ignoring the other chair on the balcony and wiggled and nudged and scooted until he found a way to fit his growing body onto my shrinking one. His feet reached almost to my outstretched legs, as I rested them on a stool, his head no longer nestles under mine but blocks my view.
He complains that I get more screen time than him, that I can “always be on my phone” and he can’t. Taking that opportunity to show him what I was doing, that I wasn’t playing games or killing zombies, he still wasn’t impressed. He saw the words and so offhandedly said, “No gran you were writing and you posted that.” In turns wowed that he understands that I write and had mistaken the John Irving novel I am reading for something I could ever do, if only because he read none of it and only saw a flash of it and at this point in his literacy has no taste for good books, and then dismayed that he equated gaming and reading as endeavors of the same measure when completed on a device, I explained the difference between books and games. I told him that he had unlimited time on my iPad if he is reading. My phone was snatched away with his sticky fingers as he searched for the book apps we downloaded, apps he ignores to instead kill zombies and race monster trucks. While he explored the possibilities, I noticed the day streamed along his arms and legs, the moments of marker that left the pages and touched his skin, the places where water fights had removed patches of dust blown up by bike skid-out competitions. I smelled the boy in his hair as his head rested on my shoulder and remembered that these moments are moving as quickly as the images on the screens. How many more times will he choose to ignore the kids who come calling in order to play with me?
After another water fight that I did not agree to and absolutely lost and then his bath where he got to warm up in bubbles with more battles of guys who are missing some limbs because the beasts like to sneak in and eat bath toys, we read another chapter of Harry Potter. I wanted to read the books to him first before he saw the movies, to entice him into the world of magic and reading just as his father was lured in but Mama showed him the first movie and who can stop there? So we were backtracking and the gift of a lovely illustrated volume given by a former babysitter who knows the power of JK Rowling and also how special this little boy is was our vehicle into the story. Curled up next to me, growing more limp with each paragraph, he listened as the day eased away. Impossible not to remember reading this book to his father, not to remember saying, “Last chapter” and hearing, “NO! one more!” until he chose to take over reading by himself. Hooked, the child who wouldn’t read, mastering the task because he had to know what would happen next. Plum already knows though and wants me to get to the part with the snake and the part with the girl in the bathroom. We won’t get there tonight, the trampoline and the bike and the water battles and a warm bath ensured his body was betraying his words and he was sent off to bed.
I see his father most when he is sleeping, those blue eyes that are exact replicas closed to me. I see the resting face and I watch, wondering at his dreams and knowing when he wakes his feet will be a bit bigger and his fingers a bit longer and his eyes a bit more charming. While he sleeps though I can look at him and see the son I no longer can gaze at and know that each child only visits for a season, they nestle onto laps and ask before they get snacks only for a short time before they read to themselves and take their own showers. I know this gift of moments all add up to him choosing different playmates and one day kissing the feet of his own children. One day he will tell the stories of growing up fully surrounded by the love of his grandmother, his cousins will wonder that they were kept from those kisses and ice creams and water fights. He will love his friends and spouse and children and live out his faith in large part because of the moments I don’t steal away on the balcony but spend reading Harry Potter and cutting up strawberries for him.
The first weekend of summer break is drawing to a close, the burn pile is gone. I struggled to light it after too much rain had dampened it all. I wanted to roast hot dogs and make s’mores but just couldn’t get it going. Knowing he was going to be disappointed, I tried to explain about water-soaked wood and that another week of sun would do the trick. I reminded him that patience is good. With his most serious face and those blue eyes shining, he asked me if I remembered our family motto. Muttering excuses, spouting reasons, I tried with all I had to explain. Still, he asked me, did I not remember? Yes, Plum, I remember. “We never give up.” Confident that he had left me to my task with my confidence restored, he went about playing and I called in Chef to actually make the burn pile ignite. Hot dogs were roasted, s’mores were made. Our legacy and his to us, the simple reminder that if we want something badly enough, we will make it happen. This child is proof everyday that doing all the hard work and smelling the stinky toes will bring deep joy of snuggles on balconies and giggles on the way to bed. This little boy who is ushering in summer for the 7th time with bigger feet and blue eyes that can read without my help calls me back to the moment and away from worries and remembering and wishing, “Gran, where are you?” “Right here, sugarPlum, right here.” Contact established, we are both exactly where we need to be.