By Peter Lederman
It was an easy “yes” when the call came from our daughter in Los Angeles.
“We are breaking,” she said. This, after 4 months of 10 hour work-from-home days for both her and her husband in a small apartment with a superbly active almost-2-year-old and no child care. And there were so many painful frustrating times with the little boy crying and both parents locked in must-attend meetings and presentations where each one suffered a hopelessness. Los Angeles was so bad that it had come to renting someone’s front lawn for an hour a few days a week to give the little fellow a chance to breathe and play.
So “Can we live with you in Andes till the world is better?” was answered with an easy “yes.”
A long trip cross country with most everything they were going to need in a large rented van, avoiding motels, and restaurants and, yes, even bathrooms as the pandemic and its terror had exploded across the country. It was a modern day 3,000 mile slog in a covered wagon.
Well, it’s been 9 months now. How did this 3 generational experiment in human adaptation work out (they are planning to go home after both parents are vaccinated)? Well, with a renewed and deepened soul, two hernias, braces on both elbows, tremendous space in my heart for a little boy, strained emotional muscles, more love for the inner strengths of my wife, a new appreciation for Marvel movies and video games, and an updated feeling of pride in the daughter we raised. That’s roughly it.
THOUGHTS ALONG THE WAY
1) FOREWARNINGS: We had been mercilessly cautioned about the extraordinary range and curiosity of our grandson and had turned our home and deck into a gated, fenced safe playpen with everything we needed stored high off the ground. A torturous maze for old folks with bad knees and slow steps to navigate. With all the fierce protectionism of modern parents, they drilled grandma and grandpa in a constant painful drumbeat on all the possible dangers that could befall this boy. I remembered my parents who had a policy of benign neglect with my brother and me, meaning we just had to show up for dinner. Linda and I, self-approvingly, added a lot more sharing and time spent in our version of the perfect notions of child rearing. This sense of a child as the constant probable victim of all dangers real and imagined was, and still seems, a bit much.
2) ARRIVAL: If we never appreciated it enough before, which we did, Andes is a splendid, safe, wonderful and beautiful place to spend a dystopian year. You could taste the wonderful feeling the Los Angeleans had as they stepped out of the car on a gorgeous late Spring day—the endless grass and trees that just lay there for them. Not a maskless stranger in sight.
3) EARLY GOINGS: The honeymoon lasted just a couple of days, as the young parents were worn out, depleted and emotionally raw, which only time and Andes could heal.
There was plenty of tension and adjustment as you don’t just let go of your intense involvement with your child when she goes to college and then 24 years later, after only short visits back and forth, pick it up again when she is now a married mother with two graduate degrees and you have gone seedy in retirement. Like wary tigers we circled each other cautiously, always trying our best not to hurt, but little rages did erupt. Linda and I re-learned the timeless arts of diaper changing and bottle washing and our kids (daughter and husband) reluctantly learned that mom and dad relished a quietly darkened house.
4) THE MECHANICS: The kids worked remotely pretty much all day as they needed to be on California time and routinely watched Teddy for about 1/3rd of the day. Linda and I did 1/3rd of the day and the housekeeping, and fortunately we were able to hire someone to come in to do the other 1/3rd. I was elected the liaison to the outside world and did the shopping, car repairing, transfer stationing runs, etc. When Teddy napped I usually napped; otherwise I would have perished. On the weekends they explored the area like we had never done and so enjoyed just being able to go hiking and skiing in beautiful places without the constant fear of the virus.
5) THE SAVIOR: Ah, the boy! This is a physically beautiful child, with great spunk and a ceaseless curiosity, whose Chaplinesque antics, warm heart and above-age sense of humor just melt you away. All those fatherly and motherly feelings that lay buried over years of mid and later life, gradually re-emerged. Just holding his little hands as Linda, Teddy and I walked the driveway or watching him endlessly throw “baby” (his word for little) stones into the pond were just heart-tugging. We have 4 grandchildren (all on the West coast) whom we sadly know just through long plane rides, short somewhat awkward visits and that horror of communication, Skype. But here was a chance to truly bond and fall in love. It was delicious. Just sharing the wind and the Fall and the snow and the creatures was joyous. There were thousands of touching beautiful moments that will stay on with us and always be a happy comfort.
6) THE BIG ADJUSTMENT: Time and space in retirement tends to be a sprawling freedom. Living in a home we love with some secluded acreage and a pond is such a wonderful blessing that you walk around feeling calm, unfettered and free-ranging. Am I wearing any clothes as I stroll to the pond, did I schedule my on time so someone else can be free, does it matter what we eat for dinner, who doesn’t like carbohydrates, did I close the gate behind me, is my music too loud, can I just fall asleep in front of the T.V. at 4 pm and then wake at 2 am to watch tennis and cook some eggs?????? None of these nagging thoughts trouble Linda and me when we live alone. That was the hardest hill to climb and when they depart it will be the most welcomed restoration.
7) IN TOTAL: Yes again, we would do it all over without pause. Although the strain may have shortened our lives a bit, we were once again connected to the creation of a wonderful little human and the trials of his family. This was a feast a million times more rewarding than watching the news. The kids have survived with their psyches intact and seem ready for the future. Teddy has a spot reserved in a lovely day care center sponsored by U.C.L.A. He has turned 2 ½ while here and is putting precious little sentences together, cooking with us and sharing his love for Sesame Street and Elmo. He is definitely too young to likely remember any of this time, but you just know in your soul that us old folks and Andes built something strong and enduring into the fiber of his being that should serve him well.~