We've never had much trouble thinking of things to do with our youngest grandsons. After all, most of the time we spend with them is at our part-time place on the North Carolina shore, where the beach is always a hop, skip and a jump away. I was pretty sure we'd be able to keep them engaged and entertained when we met their parents halfway between Galva and Carolina to grab the boys for a mid-summer visit a couple of weeks ago. But you never know how a six and four-year-old will react to their first extended trip away from mom and dad, and I wondered if they'd be happy spending all that time with us.
"Take 'em to Disneyland," suggested one friend. "They'll never forget it."
"Me either," I thought. "Like every month when the Visa statement comes."
Actually I'm sure we will do the Disney thing one day with all our kids and grandkids, but this time, the boys got to visit a whole series of theme parks that are all part and parcel of what I've come to think of as "GrandmaLand,"
Now, I wouldn't exactly characterize my own approach to parenting (and grand-parenting) as lazy. No, I prefer terms like "laid back" and "liberating." The grandma-lady, though, has always been more of a hands-on type, filled with energy and ideas for ways to have fun, experience something new and learn a few things along the way. But we wholeheartedly agree that successful child-rearing requires both frenzied activity and hit-and-miss meals, which translates to the parenting style that got us through with our own sons: "Keep 'em tired and keep 'em hungry and they'll always sleep and eat when you want them to."
After a fun farewell family night spent at a Knoxville, Tennessee hotel with a built-in mini-waterpark, we headed north with Cyrus and John Patrick. A stop at historic Fort Boonsborough in the Kentucky hills took care of the educational portion of the ride home to Illinois, and we gave the two travelers a couple of days to adapt until things got busier still. A 500-mile trip north introduced the young Carolinians to Wisconsin, with a stop at a favored family spot along Lake Geneva. By nightfall, we were in Michigan's Upper Peninsula, where a surprise party was planned to mark my sister and brother-in-law's wedding anniversary. It was the first opportunity for the little boys to meet a veritable treasure trove of cousins, aunts and uncles, plus experience the wild grandeur of one of our favorite places in the whole wide world. The morning after the party, three generations of family members hiked up Sugarloaf Mountain, then headed for the beach for swimming, boat rides, fireworks and firelit songs and s'mores. The young adventurers beach-camped with us on the shores of Lake Superior, sleeping under a sky that was incredibly lit by the most amazing display of Northern Lights I've ever seen.
Heading south again, we visited another favorite spot--Chicago's Lincoln Park Zoo--when the temperature was a hundred and one. The lions hid in the shade, the rhinos stayed dug deep in the mud, and the ostrich sat still in the cooling mist of a nearby sprinkler. But never fear, the monkeys--and boys, too--were in fine flying form, and that's all that mattered.
But it seemed to me the best times of all happened at our house, where they experienced the amazing kind of kid freedom that can only be enjoyed in a small town. The boys were wide-eyed when we told them they were free to go across the street and into the park that borders our front yard as long as they stayed in sight and checked in from time to time. They conquered the playground equipment, discovered our old croquet set and hit golf balls with a set of clubs newly inherited from an older cousin. They made friends with neighborhood grandkids, shot hoops with a Galva basketball legend and put up sweet corn with grandma and a friend. They were young gentlemen when we took them to see the Pirates of Penzance at the Orpheum Theatre, old hands when they gamely tried to stay up late for a double feature at the Autovue Drive-Inn, and suddenly notorious when they took a neighbor's Shih Tzu on a dizzying ride down the tornado slide in the middle of the park.
They learned that the deck out back is a great spot for breakfast, that the Galva pool is the only place to be on a hot afternoon, and that the best way to spend a warm summer evening is catching fireflies in grandma's front yard. But best of all, we think they've truly learned to love the place they've called "the snowy house" ever since they saw their first real winter here a couple of Christmases ago.
I have to admit, it seems longer than a couple of weeks since we picked up the boys. Not because time has dragged, but because of the sheer volume of activities, people and places they (and we) have encountered along the way. But I heard son Patrick on the phone with young John the other day, teaching him to say, "help, I've been kidnapped," so I guess it's time to take the two of them home.
We hope they'll remember Galva and "the snowy house" as a special place. As a place they want to visit, again and again. We know we've remembered the joys of boys, with laughter in our ears and love in our hearts.
Come again. Come again soon.