Here I am in beautiful, sunny Florida with my two sons. There is more than one reason I decided to take this trip, which I won't go into. Mostly because...I can't. It's just too much for me to talk about.
I will say that I came down to see my grandparents, who are two people who have had a constant presence in my life since before I can remember. Every important memory I have, they were there. They are now in their eighties, and have been inviting me to visit them during their annual trip for probably the last ten years.
At first, my parents were here with me and the boys. Today, they left. I am here for two more days. This seemed like a pretty okay idea when all the planning took place, since I know my grandparents well and am comfortable being around them.
Except that...well, when you're thirty-two and your grandparents are in their eighties, it's not the same as it was when you were five. Does this seem obvious to you? Well, I'm the idiot who was shocked.
Today, my parents left after lunch. I put the boys in for a nap, and afterward decided to take them for a walk. My grandmother liked this idea, and decided she and my grandfather would come along.
This is where things went downhill. Fast.
First of all, my grandpa can't walk very well. He walks maybe a tenth of an inch per hour. He shuffles along in a teetery uncertain way that makes you inclined to stay behind him with your arms outstretched. Just in case.
Second of all, they decided we should all go in search of an ice cream parlor located in the hotel across the street. This street is an eight lane highway with busy traffic and no nearby crosswalks.
Thirdly, my grandfather can't walk great distances. The hotel we were looking for was only across the street, but had a long and winding driveway lined with lovely landscaping and fountains. And no benches.
When we embarked and I realized there would be street-crossing, I balked. My grandpa reassured me. "Don't worry. I'll carry Noah," he offered.
I cringed. "Um, no, Grandpa," I said quickly. I tried to cover it with a joke. "Don't worry about me. I've got Mommy muscles!"
I searched for other ways to avoid crossing the street. "We can walk all the way to the end of this road, and follow the sidewalk around the beach and back up the other side," I suggested. My grandmother looked dubious. "That's an awfully long way," she said, glancing at Grandpa.
She solved the street-crossing problem by marching out to the median, her arms outstretched like a crossing guard, announcing, "They won't hit us. They'll have to get through ME!" Right. Because Grandma's made of titanium. Like Wolverine.
It was my Grandpa, surprisingly enough, who seemed to know exactly how to find the ice cream parlor. It was just that he moved so slowly. I felt bad, since he clearly is either unaware of how slow he's become or else is in denial, so I made the boys stay back and we pretended that we were lazy walkers. Noah was really offended by this, and I had to shush him a few times to not ruin the ruse. But my grandmother was the one who really blew it. She insisted on charging ahead of us, her marathon runner's feet refusing to be reduced to a snail's pace. (This is not sarcasm--both my grandparents were marathon runners up until last year. And they won, too.) Behind her, my grandfather hollered out, "Hurry up, slow-poke!" The logic behind this was really all his, because he really seemed sincere in the hollering but was definitely wrong in his figuring.
Arriving at the hotel, my grandmother realized she needed a ladies' room, and just took off ahead of us. This left me in charge of grandpa, who needed to sit down. Soon.
"Hey, let's go sit by that beautiful fountain!" I said cheerfully, thinking this would be exciting for the boys and a place for Grandpa to rest. We trudged the rest of the way in the blistering heat to the fountain. It was empty for cleaning. We sat anyway.
"Why are we sitting by this empty fountain?" Joey complained. Grrrr.
Ten minutes later, my grandmother came out the grand front entrance of the hotel. She was waving and calling out to us, but I couldn't hear over the lovely Florida breeze. I didn't want to make my grandfather get up until I knew what she was saying.
"WHAT?!" I yelled back through the wind. She gestured wildly and her mouth was moving but I heard nothing.
"WHAT?!" I yelled again. Same response. There was nothing for it. I gathered up my children and waited to be sure my grandfather was securely on his feet, and we began plugging across the circular valet drive the doors.
"I found the ice cream parlor!" she said, looking at me crossly. (She says it i-SCREAM parlor, instead of ICE cream parlor. EmPHAsis on the wrong sylLAble.) My mouth formed a firm line so I wouldn't frown at her--she didn't do anything wrong, actually--and into the hotel we went, my grandfather the chuggy little caboose to our train.
The air conditioning hit us with a welcome blast, and I hoped it would perk up Grandpa a bit. The i-SCREAM parlor wasn't far past the hotel lobby, and the ladies inside were lovely and energetic. My grandfather refused to have any i-SCREAM, based on some principle I couldn't understand beyond "just because," but the boys each got double-decker cones with sprinkles. They were happily oblivious to my growing concerns. This was only further demonstrated when Grandma went off to the ladies' room (again) and Joey asked me to take him in the gift shop while Noah finished his i-SCREAM.
"I don't want to leave Noah, honey," I explained.
"He's with Papa," Joey said, like I was stupid. I sighed. I couldn't very well explain to Joey in front of Papa why I didn't want to leave Noah, but I also couldn't very well leave Noah alone with my grandfather. Although as I reflect, I do wonder if my grandfather even realizes that my children call him Papa and knew we were talking about him.
Thankfully, Noah finished his i-SCREAM and Grandma re-emerged from the bathroom, so it seemed like we could just head back to the condo. We'd be on the shady side of the street this time, and since we knew where we were going, I hoped I'd feel less anxious on the way back.
But halfway out of the insanely long hotel driveway, Grandma realized she left her purse in the bathroom. Her purse that had the condo KEYS in it. Grrrrr.
"Don't worry, I can jog back!" she said airily. "You all wait right here!" And she really did jog away. How many eighty-one-year-olds can do that? I don't think many. And also, she left us standing pretty much on the curb, and Gramps was teetering.
"I think there's a bench around here," he said. He meant to make it sound like I'd be wanting the bench, not him, but I was just as eager for him to sit as he was. So, while I was worried about Grandma Joggy, I also knew we couldn't just stand there on the side of the road. We had to keep walking. I sighed, holding my children's hands tightly on either side of me and checking behind me at every step to see that Grandpa was all right.
We were almost to the street when Grandpa spotted what might have been a lovely sitting rock.
"How 'bout there?" he called.
"There?" I asked, pointing. "On the median in the middle of the road?"
"It's a seat," Grandpa insisted.
I sighed. Surrounding the rock were flowers and no path, and to reach the rock one had to step up a fairly large curb.
"Okay, Grandpa," I said, feeling doubtful even as I led us over that way. We had to pause three times to let cars pass. Our dash was less than mad. It was more like...Level 1 of Frogger. When we reached the rock, we saw it was too small to sit on, and Grandpa couldn't step over the curb without wobbling. We had to keep going. Actually, we had to Frogger our way back to the sidewalk and THEN keep going. Grrrr.
We did find a bench, ultimately, on the corner of the hotel drive and the eight-lane superhighway. Not at all nerve-wracking to sit there inches from traffic with my two small children and wobbly grandfather. Waiting for a Grandma who couldn't walk ten feet without needing a bathroom and who, incidentally, wasn't answering her cell phone. Not only was she alone, not only had we left the place where she'd told us to stay put, not only had we wandered to a place she could not easily see us, but she also was not reachable. Where was she?
After a long several minutes on the bench, Grandpa startled us by speaking. He'd been in sort of a trance since we sat down. "You stay here," he said. "I'll go find Grandma."
Ha. Fat chance.
"No, Grandpa," I said, unsure of how to make him stay except to knock him down, which seemed unacceptable somehow. "I'll go."
"No," he said. "I'll go."
We all went. Grrrrrr.
It was clear we wouldn't be able to see Grandma coming around the bend unless we returned to our original spot (the one we weren't supposed to have left), and I knew Grandpa wanted to sit down again. "Let's just go back to the bench, Grandpa," I said in my firmest voice. "Grandma will find us. You'll see." I sounded much more confident than I felt, enough to convince Joey and Noah that I was right. They chirped, "Yeah, Papa, Grandma can find us! Let's go to the BENCH!"
Luckily, Grandpa didn't argue again. Not long afterward, Grandma came jogging around the ornate hotel sign and went right by us on the bench, waving as she went.
"It's a good time to cross!" she shouted, heading for the road. I scrambled to grab Noah, grasped Joey's hand tightly, and checked out the road frantically in disbelief. It was clear...sort of. Like, for normal people. But not for Grandpa...?
"Come on!" she shouted. It was the same tone she used to use when she'd yell at her old pit bull, Shiner, to stop acting excited. "Come on, Shine!" she'd holler. Sometimes she'd whack him with her giant heavy Bible. 'Cause she always had it close by.
But she couldn't whack Grandpa right now with a Bible. Instead, I got my own kids safely across the street and prayed fiercely and Grandma did her crossing guard routine to make way for Grandpa. He made it, but it seemed like barely and I was pretty shocked that no one had laid on the horn. But then, it's not home. It's Florida, where all people come to...slow down. Except maybe not so literally.
When we finally got back to the condo and I was breathlessly muttering the Lord's name repeatedly (not really in vain, I don't think), I got a text from my parents at the airport.
I texted back, "Everything's okay, but no more walks."